Several thousand pro-democracy demonstrators have returned to the streets of Hong Kong in the first large-scale rally since protests rocked the global financial hub late last year.
Some 2,000 police flanked an estimated 3,000 protesters who marched in the city’s glitzy shopping and financial districts, seeking to avoid a repeat of the so-called Occupy Central campaign that saw demonstrations shut down key roads for two-and-a-half months.
While organisers stood fast to earlier demands for full democracy in the former British colony, they insisted Sunday’s marchers would be peaceful and not seek to occupy any sites.
“We want to make it clear to the government that … we want true universal suffrage,” said Daisy Chan who was one of the organisers.
Other protesters feared they might face violence from anti-democracy groups later in the evening and some armed themselves with protective shields.
Many carried yellow umbrellas which became a symbol of last year’s campaign after protesters used them to fend off police pepper spray attacks.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and enjoyed wide-ranging freedoms under a so-called “one country two systems” arrangement.
For the first time, China promised Hong Kong citizens the right to vote for their next chief executive. The vote will happen in 2017.
But it ruled that nominees must be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee, a proposal which was heavily criticised by activists.
The situation was being closely watched internationally, a reflection of Hong Kong traditional importance as a free commercial centre and port.
Hong Kong protests
Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula which allows Hong Kong to elect its own leader.
Protesters are angry that Beijing insists candidates for the leadership must be vetted by a loyalist committee ahead of 2017 elections.
Student-led demonstrations and road blocks have brought parts of the city to a standstill for two-and-a-half months last year.
Hong Kong’s government says the occupation of streets is illegal and that open nominations are not allowed under Hong Kong laws.