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Thousands Mark Handover Anniversary With Protest

Tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong took to the streets to demand sweeping political reform on the 10th anniversary of the former British colony's return to Chinese rule. As Joseph Popiolkowski reports for VOA, many protesters used the occasion to make a renewed call for universal suffrage.

The assembled protesters joined in choruses of "Do You Hear the People Sing?", from the score of the musical Les Miserables, before leaving Victoria Park for a slow march to downtown Hong Kong's government headquarters.

The song's rallying lyrics, which sing of freedom and human rights, complemented the annual parade's call for increased democracy in Hong Kong.

Many people shouted slogans and carried flags and banners that proclaimed "We Want Democracy Now" while a massive police presence looked on.

The chairman of Hong Kong's Democratic Party, Albert Ho, says Beijing, which has ruled out direct elections in the territory until at least 2012, should not determine when Hong Kong people receive the right to vote for their government.

"The main issue for us today is to demand for the establishment of a democratic system of government, namely universal suffrage, to elect our chief executive and all members of the Legislative Council as soon as possible," said Ho.

Hong Kong's chief executive is selected by a pro-Beijing group of 800 business leaders and politicians. Half of Hong Kong's Legislative Council is popularly elected.

Hong Kong's democracy campaigners were hoping Sunday's march would rival that of July 1, 2003. Then, half a million people protested against proposed security legislation, and for more democracy. But Sunday's final count is expected to be far lower.

Demonstrator Danny Ying came to the march with his daughter Shirley, 14. He also spoke about the need for universal suffrage but says the momentum started by the 2003 march has slipped from year-to-year.

"I think the most important issue is get the people of Hong Kong to care about universal suffrage," said Ying. "If we care, it will come naturally. Right now, we do not deserve universal suffrage at the moment, in my view. We did not continue the 2003 march. That is very sad."

A Hong Kong woman, who only gave her surname as Ma, says if the city's pro-democracy movement is successful, it could act as guide for the 1.3 billion mainland Chinese who live under a regime that does not tolerate dissent.

"Hong Kong could be very important to show the China people what is really freedom," she said.

Before Hong Kong's change in sovereignty, many people worried that the rights and freedoms enjoyed in this global financial center would be eliminated. But Hong Kong has retained a high degree of autonomy from China, as seen by Sunday's march and an annual June 4th vigil marking the Tiananmen Square massacre.