Tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong marched to protest threats by activist groups to paralyze the city’s financial district if China refuses to allow direct leadership elections, underlining the division in the city.
The Alliance for Peace and Democracy put yesterday’s turnout at 193,000 people, compared with the 88,000 estimate by the University of Hong Kong’s Public Opinion Programme.
The protest highlighted the divide in Hong Kong over how to pick its new leader in 2017, with the political unrest threatening to erode its status as a global financial center. The Chinese government has insisted on having candidates vetted by a nominating committee, which has met with opposition from lawmakers, students and the activist group Occupy Central with Love and Peace.
“Occupy Central will block the traffic and affect my job and business,” Chan Cheung On, 40, a driver for a take-out delivery company, said yesterday at the protest. “Everybody in Hong Kong wants universal suffrage, but some people want to achieve it only through the way they want.”
Occupy Central has threatened to organize a 10,000 strong sit-in at the financial district if election methods fail to meet what it deems as international standards. A rally on July 1 for democracy drew 154,000 to 172,000 people, according to estimates by the University of Hong Kong.
Minor clashes broke out between demonstrators and Occupy Central supporters yesterday. Police officers arrested four men after receiving reports of assault, criminal damage and a person throwing eggs, according to a government statement.
The standing committee of China’s National People’s Congress will issue an initial ruling on the city’s democratic reforms at the end of the month, the Hong Kong government said yesterday. The government will then start a second round of public consultation, it said.
Participants in yesterday’s march were mobilized by dozens of trade groups. Kermit Keung, a property manager in his 50s who was part of an estate-management association in the rally, said he didn’t recognize some of the trade groups, which he said may lead to doubts about the protest’s legitimacy.
“Occupy Central said they represent the Hong Kong people, but I don’t think so,” said Keung. “I don’t like they asking for the democracy that they want by claiming they represent the whole Hong Kong.”
Occupy Central’s protests may take place in September if China indicates there’s no room for negotiation on the reforms, organizer Benny Tai said in an Aug. 15 phone interview. A non-negotiable requirement that candidates must have support from at least 50 percent of the nominating committee while limiting the number of candidates to two to three would probably spur action, Tai said.
The petition against Occupy Central by the Alliance and its march yesterday won’t alter “our resolve in fighting for true democracy,” Tai said.
Organizers booked more than 200 lunch tables in restaurants at Causeway Bay for the demonstrators, Ming Pao Daily reported yesterday. Robert Chow, a spokesman for the Alliance, said it was justifiable that the rally organizers provided meals and transportation, the Commercial Radio reported yesterday.
The Hong Kong government “fully respects the public’s right to take part in processions,” it said in a statement on its website yesterday. The government “welcomes and supports all activities which take forward the implementation of universal suffrage for the Chief Executive election in 2017 in accordance with the law.”
In July, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying submitted to China’s top policy-making body a report on whether there was a need to amend the methods for selecting Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017 and for forming the city’s Legislative Council in 2016.