Hundreds of pro-democracy activists took to the streets of Hong Kong Wednesday as the city marks the 18th anniversary of its handover from British to Chinese rule.
Thousands of police were on standby for the annual march, the first large-scale protest since police forcibly cleared pro-democracy demonstrators from the streets late last year.
The protest comes less than two weeks after pro-democracy legislators blocked a China-backed proposal that would have let a committee of elites screen candidates for the city’s first leadership election.
While the rejection of Beijing's reform plans was an embarrassment for the Communist Party, it means the next chief executive will be selected by the same panel that has chosen all three local leaders 1997.
At a flag-raising ceremony Wednesday, the territory's pro-Beijing chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, accused opposition lawmakers of holding back the city's progress.
"If a few lawmakers do not want to face democracy and instead deliberately block the voting process, and if certain individuals deliberately misuse the administrative and judicial procedures to thwart social development, the efforts of the government and society will get half of the result with twice the effort," he said.
Around 500,000 pro-democracy protesters joined the July 1 march last year, when police arrested more than 500 people who blocked a road in the financial district, in what was seen as a prelude to the massive 79-day Occupy movement of civil disobedience that kicked off in September.
The protesters decried Beijing's reform proposal as a plan for "fake democracy," saying it did not fulfill a promise to hold democratic elections by 2017.
The July 1 demonstration has become a fixture of the protest calendar directed at both China's communist government and the local leadership.