Thousands in street demo to denounce planned bill

HONG KONG: Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to Hong Kong's streets yesterday to denounce the government's planned anti-subversion law, in the city's biggest street demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. 

They chanted slogans as the rally began to denounce a bill critics say will impose Beijing-style control over free speech and the media. 

Brandishing banners, umbrellas and fans, many wore black on a sweltering day to mourn what they said was the demise of rights and freedoms in one of the world's key financial centres. 

Critics say the law, which Beijing has been pressing Hong Kong to enact, poses the biggest threat to basic rights in the former British colony since it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997. 

Hours before the rally began, protesters burned the Communist Party flag as Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao repeatedly tried to reassure the nervous territory that its freedoms would be protected. 

By late afternoon, rally organisers said around 400,000 people had turned out, with more still pouring in.  

Many more protesters were stranded miles away as the crush of people heading to the rally overwhelmed subway and bus systems. 

The government has said it would not back down on the legislation regardless of yesterday's turnout. The bill is bound to be passed by the territory's legislature, which is packed with pro-Beijing and pro-government supporters. 

While most marchers' prime target was the anti-subversion measures, to be enshrined as Article 23 of Hong Kong's Basic Law or mini-constitution, many others said they were frustrated by the government's handling of the ailing economy and the SARS epidemic. – Reuters  

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