Pro-Beijing protest in Hong Kong attracts tens of thousands

Rally in protest at Occupy Central activists who are seeking direct elections

Protesters gather to march in the streets to demonstrate against the pro-democracy Occupy Central campaign in Hong Kong on Sunday. Photograph: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Protesters gather to march in the streets to demonstrate against the pro-democracy Occupy Central campaign in Hong Kong on Sunday. Photograph: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Tue, Aug 19, 2014, 01:00

Tens of thousands of people marched in Hong Kong at the weekend to protest against threats by the Occupy Central activist groups to shut down the city’s financial district if China refuses to allow direct leadership elections in 2017.

Public opinion in Hong Kong is becoming deeply polarised over how its people will elect the territory’s chief executive in three years, when the post is supposed to be chosen by residents of China’s richest city.

The Alliance for Peace and Democracy put the turnout at 193,000, while the police said 110,000.

Genuine vote

The Occupy movement has said it will strike at Hong Kong’s business heart by staging sit-ins by 10,000 people and blocking streets in Central if the government does not deliver a blueprint for the 2017 chief executive election that ensures the electorate will have a genuine vote, and not just reflect business interests as currently stands.

Occupy Central’s protests may take place as early as next month if China indicates there’s no room for negotiation on the reforms.

‘Basic law’

When Britain gave Hong Kong back to China, the terms included a “two systems, one country” package and a mini- constitution known as the “basic law”.

This basically enshrines democratic rights, but voting on a broad level in Hong Kong would be the first example of democracy in China, and poses a threat to single-party rule by the Communist Party, which has run China since the 1949 revolution.

According to opinion polls, most people in Hong Kong dislike the current situation whereby a 1,193-member committee of mostly pro-Beijing elites nominates the candidates who may run for head of the government.

However, many in the territory fear that Occupy Central’s radical calls for a civic nomination might force Beijing to abandon even moderate reforms.

This might in turn entrench political divisions among Hong Kong’s eight million people.