Tens of thousands march for full democracy in Hong Kong

Pressure mounted for Hong Kong and Beijing leaders to respond to calls for full democracy in this Chinese territory as tens of thousands of protesters demanded the right to choose their leaders.

Outside the government's headquarters on Sunday, protesters urged Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang to respond immediately to calls for a roadmap specifying when and how the territory can have full direct elections, promised as an eventual goal under its mini-constitution.

"I can't think of anywhere else in the world that you can have such large number of people turning out in such a peaceful manner to ask for something which is of their own right," said Ronny Tong, a lawmaker and march organizer.

Organizers said the protest drew 250,000 people _ far exceeding analysts' forecast of between 50,000 and 100,000. Police put the turnout at 63,000.

When Hong Kong was a British colony, its rulers denied its residents 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 Hong Kong wide autonomy.

Sunday's big turnout indicates hopes are faltering over the government's political reform package, which critics say is too conservative.

The proposed changes call for doubling the size of the 800-member committee that picks Hong Kong's leader and expanding the 60-member legislature, as steps toward greater democracy.

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 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.

Tsang said he shares the protesters' goals, and agreed to make limited amendments to the reforms. He did not provide further details.

"Both the central government and this administration are actively leading this community towards universal suffrage in an orderly fashion," Tsang said at a news conference after the rally. "I am 60 years of age. I certainly want to see universal suffrage taking place in Hong Kong in my time."

Opposition lawmakers criticized Tsang's response.

"I don't think he answers the call for democracy of the 250,000 people that marched on the streets," said lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan. "We want to see concrete actions."

Lee and about 50 other protesters held a sit-in at government headquarters into early Monday, chanting slogans for democracy and refusing to leave. They were removed by police peacefully at 3 a.m., television reports showed.

Opposition against the proposed changes has reinvigorated the pro-democracy movement, which slowed after Beijing rejected a quick transition to democracy last year.

Two pro-democracy marches helped trigger the territory's first leadership change since the handover in 1997. Both protests _ in 2003 and 2004 _ drew half a million people demanding the right to pick their leader and all lawmakers. Currently, only half of the legislators are directly elected, while the other half are selected by interest groups.

Several protesters marched Sunday with huge, makeshift bird cages to suggest the democratic development was constrained.

Hong Kong's former No. 2 official, Anson Chan, who marched, has criticized Beijing for rejecting a quick transition to full democracy.

"I believe democracy to be good for Hong Kong and in good time, when the time is ripe, it would also be good for my country," she said.

K.T. Wong, a retiree, also marched and held a cardboard saying, "I'm 75. I want popular elections. Never give up.", AP reported. V.A.

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