Hong Kong: democracy groups hope to pull off a huge street protest

Pro-democracy groups hoped tens of thousands of people would march in Hong Kong's streets Sunday to pressure the government to speed up political reforms that would allow voters to pick the city's leader and entire legislature.

The government has argued the Chinese territory isn't ready for full democracy. It has urged the public to support a modest political reform package that falls far short of full democracy.

Pro-democracy legislators have refused to endorse the proposal. They're demanding a timetable or road map that specifies when and how Hong Kong will become fully democratic, as promised under the territory's mini-constitution. They hoped a massive turnout at Sunday's protest would force the government to rethink its proposal.

Two massive pro-democracy marches helped trigger the territory's first leadership change since the handover. Both protests in 2003 and 2004 drew half a million people demanding the right to pick their leader and all lawmakers.

Analysts have predicted that Sunday's march will draw between 50,000 and 100,000 people. When Hong Kong was a British colony, its rulers denied the people the freedom to elect their leaders and full legislature. The tradition has continued since the city returned to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that promised to give Hong Kong a wide degree of autonomy.

Pro-democracy groups argue that Hong Kong deserves full democracy because it has a highly educated, sophisticated population living in one of Asia's most stable and prosperous cities.

But Hong Kong's leader, Donald Tsang, and Beijing insist that much needs to be done before the city becomes fully democratic. They claim Hong Kong's political culture is still immature and extensive discussions need to be held about how democracy would work.

Some analysts say that Beijing is stalling on democratic reforms because the Communist leadership fears that it would lose control of Hong Kong's government which under a democracy would care more about answering to the public.

The government's political reform package calls for doubling the size of the 800-member committee that picks Hong Kong's leader. The reforms also propose expanding the 60-member legislature. Half the members are directly elected, while the other half are selected by interest groups, reported AP. P.T.

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