Hopes for freedom float upon a sea of political discontent

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 July, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 July, 2003, 12:00am

Black-clad protesters send a powerful message to HK rulers

Yesterday was a day Hong Kong people should be proud of, the organisers of the march said, as the city had seen nothing like it since the huge 1989 demonstration against the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown.

But instead of fighting for freedom on the mainland, many Hong Kong people now feel they are fighting to retain their own amid fears that their rights will be curbed by the legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law.

When almost 10 per cent of a population noted for its political indifference hit the streets to protest yesterday, the government was presented with clear proof it was time to listen to the voice of the public.

Contrasting with a bright blue sky, everywhere from Central to North Point people were wearing black - the traditional colour of mourning - to express their feelings about the impending enactment of national security legislation critics say will lead to a lessening of people's rights and freedoms.

Sporting T-shirts, badges and banners bearing anti-government slogans, people heading to the protest - lovers holding hands, families pushing infants in strollers, elderly people and groups of friends - were easily spotted sitting in restaurants and on public transport.

Alliances were quickly formed among the newly acquainted when people discovered others who were marching for the same cause and heading to Victoria Park together.

Unionist legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, an organiser of the march, earlier described the protest as a 'final showdown' between the public and the government, and the sharp division between the pro and anti-government forces could not been clearer, judging from the scenes in Victoria Park.

It was also clear which way public opinion was leaning, as attendance at a carnival hosted by the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions was tiny compared with the anti-government protest, even though the carnival was spread over half of the park's public area.

The pro-government and pro-Beijing camps were perhaps the biggest losers as they became the target of people's anger.

When Chan Kam-lam, of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong, was overheard by marchers at Tin Hau MTR station telling reporters that 'these people have been misled', an uproar broke out.

The marchers shouted, 'Down with the DAB', forcing the legislator to leave.

The Wan Chai office of the pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao newspaper was also not spared the public's rage. Protesters stuck hundreds of posters on the front gate of the office showing Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa being silenced by a cake thrown in his face.

An employee of the newspaper said nobody from the management dared come out to clear the mess.

Shouting slogans such as 'We march for freedom, not for fun' - in response to Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee's remark that people would join the march as they had nothing else to do - and 'Oppose Article 23, power to the people', the marchers filled 5km of the six-lane highway between Central and Fortress Hill for six hours.

Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to wait under the blazing sun for hours before they could even begin the march, but there were no complaints.

All said they wanted to unite and express their anger at the failing government. 'The hardship was worth it as we are all here to fight for a better future for Hong Kong,' a female marcher said.

Along the route, marchers were supported by passersby yelling anti-government slogans. Groups of expatriates also held a dance performance to show their opposition to Article 23.

A team of 12 Democrats, led by chairman Yeung Sum, who completed a 100-hour hunger strike against Article 23, also joined the protest, but turned up in wheelchairs as they were too weak to walk.

Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, spokesman for the Civil Human Rights Front, which organised the march, said: 'This is definitely an historic moment, as it is the first time Hong Kong people have fought for their freedom and rights. It is a day to be proud of.'