Thousands of people, most of them demanding democracy, march on a Hong Kong downtown street

Protesters have rallied in the streets of Hong Kong at an annual march for democratic reforms. Estimates of the crowd ranged from 11,000 to  21,000 people, but the turnout was significantly lower than in previous years.

Friday's protest was timed to coincide with the eighth anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule in 1997.

In previous years, as many as 500,000 people took part in protesting the former British colony's weak economy and the political controls imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese government.

Organizers of the rally say the low turnout does not mean that democratic reforms have become less important to Hong Kong's nearly seven million residents. However, the territory's popular new chief executive, Donald Tsang, says Hong Kong's ties with Beijing are now closer than ever before.

Mr. Tsang was chosen by Communist Party leaders in Beijing to succeed Tung Chee-hwa, who resigned in March.