Thousands stage anti-government protest in Macau


By James Pomfret

MACAU (Reuters) - More than 1,000 Macau residents staged an anti-government protest on Thursday, demanding an end to corruption and calling for greater democracy at a time of mounting tensions and social inequalities in the gambling haven. 

"Fight for democracy. Protect our livelihood," shouted the protesters who marched through the streets brandishing banners and shouting slogans denouncing what they called the Macau government's poor and opaque governance. 

The rally, on the 8th anniversary of Macau's reversion from Portuguese to Chinese rule, comes as the casino boom town grapples with a raft of challenges including a widening wealth gap and perceptions of endemic graft. A high-profile corruption trial involving Macau's former secretary for transport and public works, Ao Man-long, is currently under way. 

"Do you think Ao Man-long is the only corrupt official in Macau?" shouted opposition legislator Au Kam-san through a loudhailer. The protesters yelled back "No". 

Police blocked off roads and kept close tabs on the protesters as they snaked their way for several kilometers through Macau's narrow streets. 

During a protest earlier this year, on May Day, Macau riot police fired into the air as they struggled to disperse crowds demanding labour rights and an end to corruption. 

Thursday's rally included labour unionists, members of professional and political groups and ordinary Macau residents. 

"There are old ladies in Macau who push around rubbish for nothing. Now that the government has money, why can't it help the poor? It's inexcusable," said Mike Tam, 24, who marched with a group of young friends. 

While not as large or as heated as other protests which have flared here over the past year, some observers said Macau's social disharmony was now spreading into middle-income homes. 

"More and more people are more concerned that the governance in Macau is not very ideal, not very transparent and not fair to the people, especially the grassroots," said Larry So, a Macau-based social commentator. 

In recent years, Macau has flung open its doors to Las Vegas gaming giants including the MGM Grand earlier this week as well as a Wynn resort and the $2.4 billion Venetian Macau, turning it into the world's largest gaming hub. 

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