Thousands of people in Hong Kong noisily protested on Sunday against the city’s incoming leader and decried Beijing’s alleged interference in the election that propelled him to the top job.
Holding banners and chanting slogans such as “One person, one vote” and “Leung step down”, demonstrators marched through the busy city center to Beijing’s representative office in the semi-autonomous territory.
About 15,000 people took part in the 90-minute procession, organizers said. Police estimated the crowd at 5,300.
It was the first major protest since Leung Chun-ying, 57, a self-made millionaire property consultant, was chosen a week earlier as the next chief executive by a 1,200-strong election committee packed with pro-Beijing elites.
The former British colony, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, enjoys broad freedoms not seen on mainland China under the “One country, two systems” model, but does not yet get to choose its own leader by popular vote.
There were chaotic scenes outside Beijing’s representative office when police sprayed a fire extinguisher at a protester who repeatedly tried to set a Hong Kong flag on fire.
Police used pepper spray a few times after a small group of protesters attempted to break through barricades during a standoff. The group refused to leave hours after the march had ended.
Demonstrators held up a huge black banner with the Chinese character “mourning” to highlight what they called “the death of democracy”, and posters saying “The Wolf is here”. They also trampled on a wolf-shaped banner.
Tang was seen as Beijing’s favored candidate until a series of gaffes and scandals wrecked his campaign. The government in China then reportedly relayed to election committee members that they should support Leung instead.
Opinion polls before the election suggested that many in Hong Kong backed neither Leung nor Tang, but wanted universal suffrage to choose a new leader to replace outgoing chief executive Donald Tsang from July.
Leung said in a statement after the rally that he respected the right of the public to express their views.
Leung will be Hong Kong’s third post-handover leader. Beijing has said that at the earliest, the city’s chief executive could be directly elected in 2017 and the legislature by 2020.