70,000 rally in support of electoral reform proposals
Tens of thousands of people braved the heat at Victoria Park yesterday to attend a rally called to show support for the government's electoral reform proposals.
Organisers estimated 120,000 turned out on what was the hottest day of the year so far - with temperatures reaching 31.5 degrees Celsius. Police estimated 70,000 were at the rally and said 43,000 took part in a subsequent march to Central.
Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and several of his ministers, sporting T-shirts bearing the 'Act Now' slogan the government has used to urge support for its proposals, were among those who took to the stage.
'Act now,' Tsang shouted to the crowd, and told them: 'This is the most important and meaningful work for me in 40 years in public office. I will try my best in the rest of my term to bring universal suffrage to Hong Kong.'
Miriam Lau Kin-yee, leader of the pro-business Liberal Party, said: 'Our democracy train must not stop while the engine is running. It will only produce exhaust fumes. It makes no contribution to society at all.'
Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying, a likely contender to succeed Tsang in 2012, said: 'I wish the people of Hong Kong, regardless of class or political stance, can continue to support the administration so Hong Kong can achieve universal suffrage as stated in the Basic Law.'
About 40 Beijing-loyalist groups, including the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, encouraged supporters to attend the rally, which featured live musical performances. Many were bussed to the park.
'This can't be a false step. This is right,' a 52-year-old man said of the government's proposals.
But that was not a view shared by all. 'I don't support Tsang's reform thing,' said a 65-year-old woman. 'I just thought an all-day tour with seafood and a free music show for under HK$100 was a nice deal.'
She explained that she and her family had joined a HK$98 city tour featuring a seafood lunch in Sai Kung, a guided jaunt along Hollywood Road, Central, the rally and march.
A 40-year-old said he was there because his colleagues had asked him to go, but he had no idea what it was all about.
Asked if she supported the reform package, a 59-year-old woman said: 'What package? I don't know ... don't ask me.'
The issue of seafood dinners for participants has been a sore point for rally organisers since the Hong Kong Quanzhou Association was found to have offered a HK$200 'meal allowance' to each participant.
DAB chairman Tam Yiu-chung began his speech by asking the crowd what they were there for. Many shouted: 'For universal suffrage, support the reform package.'
'So you're not here for the seafood meals, are you?' he asked. 'Of course not,' they shouted.
After 75 minutes of speeches, many in the crowd joined a march to Central, keeping up an incessant chant of 'Act now' as they paraded through Causeway Bay - where traffic was severely disrupted.
Police confiscated megaphones from League of Social Democrats members who heckled the marchers.