People carry flags as they take part in a pro-government rally in Hong Kong on August 17, 2014. - AFP PHOTO / ALEX OGLE
HONG KONG: Thousands protested in Hong Kong against plans by pro-democracy activists to paralyse the city centre with a mass sit-in unless China grants acceptable electoral reforms.
Public discontent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city is at its highest for years, with concern at perceived interference by Beijing and growing divisions over how Hong Kong’s leader should be chosen in 2017 under the planned reforms.
Pro-democracy campaigners from the Occupy Central group have pledged to mobilise protesters to block roads in the Central financial district later this year if authorities reject the public’s right to nominate candidates for the chief executive post.
But the movement has been strongly criticised by Beijing and city officials as illegal, radical and potentially violent.
Organisers of yesterday’s rally, the Alliance for Peace and Democracy, say the silent majority of the city’s seven million residents do not support the Occupy movement.
“We want to let the world know that we want peace, we want democracy, but please, do not threaten us, do not try to turn this place into a place of violence,” alliance co-founder Robert Chow said.
Organisers said more than 120,000 people had signed up to indicate they would attend the rally. Thousands wearing red clothes and waving Chinese flags filled the starting point in Victoria Park when a march began shortly after 1.30pm.
“I am here to oppose Occupy, as simple as that. It is a bad thing for young people,” a 70-year-old retired chef, who only gave his surname Wong, said.
“I don’t know how to give a view on democracy, it’s high-level politics. I just know if there is no peace there is no prosperity,” a 40-year-old construction worker surnamed Kwok said, while holding a Chinese flag.
But some participants in the afternoon march, attended by several groups with ties to different Chinese provinces, were unsure why they were there.
“I come here to play, to buy things,” a participant identified as a tourist by Cable Television news said when asked why she was attending the rally.
She was promptly led away by a man who refused to answer questions.
Chow said the Occupy movement had “stepped over the line”.
“What they are trying to say is that if China does not bow to them, then they will occupy Central, they are going to turn the whole place into some sort of a battleground,” he said. — AFP