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Thousands Rally for Democracy in Hong Kong - 2004-01-01


Thousands of Hong Kong residents demonstrated for greater democracy and direct elections to choose their next leader. The turnout was much smaller than at an anti-government rally six months ago.

Protesters in Hong Kong marched peacefully, calling for democracy and direct elections for Hong Kong's next leader.

One resident said she thinks a democratically elected leader would be more in touch with the people.

"If we are able to elect the chief executive directly, we are sure the chief executive will be more accountable," she said.

The protest was the most significant political rally since a half-million residents protested on July 1, demanding the government scrap a controversial bill many believed would erode the territory's freedoms.

During that protest, the largest Hong Kong had seen in more than a decade, many demonstrators called for Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's resignation, accusing him of ignoring public opinion.

Mr. Tung was chosen by Beijing to preside over Hong Kong after it reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, ending 150 years of British rule. He was officially elected by an 800-person committee of Hong Kong residents, many of whom have both philosophical and business ties with communist China.

Pro-democracy demonstrators say the committee, whose primary responsibility is to approve the chief executive, does not reflect the desires and concerns of Hong Kong people.

The government said it would seek a consensus from all parts of Hong Kong society before making changes.

But Hong Kong's largest pro-government party has repeatedly voted against proposals to speed up democratic reform.

One official, Zhang Hin Zhi, a member of China's National Peoples Congress, accuses pro-democracy protesters of undermining Hong Kong's rule of law. He says the pro-democracy parties have a tendency to stir controversy.

Hong Kong's constitution, devised to protect civil liberties after the British left, advocates full democracy, and allows changes to the current system in 2007. Officials promise to start public consultations on democratic reforms soon, but its critics accuse the leaders of stalling.