Thousands join in pro-democracy march in Hong Kong


Tens of thousands of people streamed into Hong Kong streets on New Year's Day to demand greater democracy in the biggest march since huge protests in July shocked local leaders and Beijing.

Shouting "We demand more democracy", "Return power to the people" and "One man, one vote", political activists, workers and families filed slowly from a park in the busy Causeway Bay shopping district to government offices in central Hong Kong.

Organisers said 100,000 people had joined the march, five times more than expected, while a Reuters photographer estimated the number at 70,000 to 80,000. Police refused to give a figure.

Before they set off, religious groups prayed that Hong Kong voters would be allowed to elect their own leaders.

Hong Kong's first mass demonstration of the new year was widely seen as a test of whether public anger at the deeply unpopular Tung has cooled in recent months and was expected to be closely watched by China's communist leaders.

Already fearful that Taiwan could move toward formal independence, China is worried that calls for more democracy could loosen its grip on Hong Kong and spread to the mainland.

Some pro-China politicians had warned that a large turnout today could increase anxiety in Beijing.

China largely controls Hong Kong, even though the city was promised a high degree of autonomy after Britain handed it back in 1997. It selects the city's leader and has devised a system that ensures many law-makers are pro-government.

Hong Kong's constitution says its leader and all lawmakers can be directly elected from 2007 but gives no details.