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Tens of Thousands March for Democracy in Hong Kong

At least 60,000 people have marched through Hong Kong's streets to demand greater democracy - pushing for a timetable on when they can directly elect the territory's leaders.

"We are here today for democracy of Hong Kong! We are here today demanding universal suffrage! Let our voices be heard: Long live democracy! Long live democracy!" With these words blasted over a speaker in Hong Kong's Victoria Park Sunday, tens of thousands of citizens of this special administrative Chinese region marched to local government offices to demand the right to elect their political leaders.

Hong Kong people did not have the right to vote under British colonial rule but were promised eventual universal suffrage when the territory was handed back to China in 1997. So far Communist leaders in Beijing have ruled out setting a timetable for electoral reforms.

On the streets, dressed in black and chanting slogans, many Hong Kong citizens said it is time the promise is kept.

Currently only half of Hong Kong's 60 legislators are directly elected. The chief executive is selected by a committee of 800 Beijing-backed elites.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang is proposing a compromise plan for the next elections in 2007: to double the size of the committee that selects Hong Kong's leader and to expand the legislature.

But pro-democracy lawmakers - who organized Sunday's March - say they will veto the legislation on December 21 unless it includes a timetable for electoral reform.

Political scientist Anthony Cheung of Hong Kong's City University says lawmakers want to create a sense of urgency ahead of the vote on the reform package.

"They managed somehow to focus attention on this march as a major sort of showdown in the negotiations with the government and also Beijing," he said.

Hong Kong has seen several mass protests over the past few years, calling for greater democracy. More than half a million people marched through the streets in July 2003, forcing the government of then-chief executive Tung Chee-hwa to withdraw plans for an unpopular security law, which critics said would have rolled back civil liberties.