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Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying waves to onlookers as he attends a flag raising ceremony in Hong Kong on Wednesday, celebrating the 65th anniversary of China National Day. Photo: Reuters
Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying waves to onlookers as he attends a flag raising ceremony in Hong Kong on Wednesday, celebrating the 65th anniversary of China National Day. Photo: Reuters

Hong Kong leader jeered by democracy protesters at flag-raising

Protests will spread unless Leung Chun-ying resigns and Beijing drops its plans to control 2017 election, say leaders

Hong Kong: Hong Kong’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying was jeered by pro-democracy demonstrators at a ceremony to hoist the Chinese flag as the city entered the sixth day of protests seeking free elections.

Leung arrived by boat at Golden Bauhinia Square to mark the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The site is near the main protests in Admiralty, where organizers estimated more than 100,000 people gathered last night to demand Leung step aside and China drop plans to vet candidates in a leadership election planned for 2017.

“It’s understandable that different people have different ideal proposals for political reforms," Leung said at the ceremony. “But having universal suffrage is better than not having it. Five million people being able to pick the chief executive through one-man-one-vote must be better than the 1,200-member election committee."

After the flag raising, Leung and other dignitaries drank champagne on a red stage in a reception hall festooned with Chinese and Hong Kong flags as a white-coated band played patriotic tunes. Hundreds of protesters faced police outside the ceremony, booing the chief executive and calling for fully-free elections.

“We are optimistic," 17-year-old student leader Joshua Wong told reporters at the site. “We hope CY can bear the responsibility and step down as soon as possible," he said, referring to Leung by his initials.

Heavy rain

The demonstrators weathered heavy thunderstorms overnight and, as dawn approached, tens of thousands packed the main protest areas in the city. Roads remained blocked into the central business district and protesters choked the shopping areas of Causeway Bay and Mong Kok. Police have not released estimates of the size of the crowds.

Further storms this morning dumped as much as 20 millimeters (0.8 inch) of rain on Central and Admiralty, according to data on the Hong Kong Observatory’s website. The agency forecasts more showers and possible thunderstorms.

The movement, kick-started by students on 26 September, grew after police used tear gas on the weekend in an attempt to disperse crowds. Leaders of the demonstrations have said the protests will spread unless Leung resigns and the government in Beijing drops its plans to control the 2017 election.

When asked at a press conference yesterday whether he would quit, Leung said that “any personnel changes" would result in the existing election committee choosing his successor, rather than through a vote.

‘Umbrella revolution’

“I’m still young," said Alvin Hui, a 17-year-old student, in Wan Chai before Leung arrived by boat. “Maybe I’m not in a good position to judge who’s right. I do think that C.Y. Leung has to respond to what people say, since so many people are protesting against him."

Protesters are calling the demonstrations the “umbrella revolution" after people sheltered behind umbrellas when the police used pepper spray and tear gas on 28 September. Public outrage at the televised scenes of the clashes led the government to pull police off the streets.

More protesters may join the gatherings today and tomorrow during holidays for China’s National Day and the Chung Yeung Festival, when Hong Kongers honour their ancestors. Today also signifies the start of Golden Week, a week-long break when hundreds of thousands of Chinese typically travel to Hong Kong, fuelling retail sales. Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group Ltd., the world’s largest jewellery chain, shut about 20 shops on Tuesday.

‘Unreasonable demands’

The economic loss for shopping malls and office buildings is at least HK$40 billion ($5.2 billion), China Central Television reported on Tuesday, citing business associations. The protests aim to paralyze transportation, harm the rule of law and disrupt business to pressure the government into accepting “various unreasonable demands," CCTV reported.

Stocks slumped this week, giving the benchmark Hang Seng Index its biggest two-day drop since February.

The democracy protesters are spread across four metro stations from the Central business district to the popular shopping area of Causeway Bay. More than 200 people gathered in Tsim Sha Tsui, a shopping district in Kowloon, Commercial Radio Hong Kong reported today.

Demonstrators last night in the main protest areas in Admiralty and Central included office workers, children and university students in black tee-shirts. Volunteers handed out McDonald’s meals and water bottles, while some people sang Cantonese pop tunes.

Basic Law

Protesters placed umbrellas in front of the Legislative Council Complex near Admiralty sporting slogans in white paint including “happy disobedience" and “we fight for democracy."

The rallies, the most violent since unrest in the 1960s led by pro-Communist groups inspired by Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, are testing China’s control of the city after British colonial rule ended in 1997. Beijing had pledged to maintain the city’s freedoms under its “one country, two systems" approach.

China’s government is unlikely to withdraw an 31 August decision that candidates for 2017 must be vetted by a committee, Leung wrote on his blog on Tuesday. The ruling was made in accordance with the Basic Law, the city’s de-facto constitution, he said.

China endorsed the idea of holding elections in Hong Kong as far back as 1990 with the adoption of the Basic Law.

“We will keep coming back if the government doesn’t respond to the students’ demands," said Thomas So, a 64-year- old retiree. “Mainland China promised Hong Kong universal suffrage. We did not make it up."

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