Leung Chun-ying

Rival protests turn up the heat on Leung Chun-ying

As opposing protests reflect widening political divisions over chief executive, analysts say the next months will be crucial for his survival

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2013, 11:52pm

Hong Kong's political divisions intensified yesterday as tens of thousands of protesters called on Leung Chun-ying to step down while pro-government groups mobilised supporters to back the embattled chief executive.

The various rallies held yesterday were marked by polarised stances towards Leung. And last night, six arrests were made as traffic was disrupted by anti-government protesters.

The march led by the Civil Human Rights Front - calling for Leung to resign and universal suffrage - drew most attention. Organisers estimated 130,000 joined the four-hour protest.

Police said 17,000 people started the march in Victoria Park. The Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong said more than 30,000 took part in the rally in Wan Chai, while police said it peaked at 26,000.

The anti-Leung rallies and their calls for him to quit were reported last night by the state-run Xinhua news agency, which rarely covers anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

Pro-government groups including the Hong Kong Celebrations Association and the Voice of Loving Hong Kong put their rallies' turnouts at 60,000 and 2,500. Police said the figures were closer to 8,000 and 500.

The rally held by the radical wing of the pan-democrats such as People Power, which formed the Anti-CY Alliance, also reported thousands of protesters in and around Central district. People Power said its rally drew 12,000 people, while HKU put the figure at up to 4,700.

After 10pm, police made six arrests including lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung and activist Tsang Kin-shing.

Around 400 protesters had attempted to block the junction of Queen's Road Central and Ice House Street, and later Cotton Tree Drive, leading to long traffic jams. The arrests were made after clashes and a stand-off between protesters and police on Queen's Road Central.

As well as the major theme, protesters also demanded universal pensions, the protection of gay rights and a halt to the northeastern New Territories development plan.

Jackie Hung Ling-yu, the Front's convenor, said they were satisfied with the turnout. "It should be loud enough for the central government to hear the voice of Hong Kong people," she said.

Executive Councillor Cheng Yiu-tong, who organised the first pro-government rally, said they hoped to achieve a "stable environment" for Leung to focus his attention on policymaking.

Minor clashes between supporters of opposing camps were reported. Only one man was arrested earlier for damaging the Hong Kong and national flags.

Political analysts said Leung's government had become a "lame duck" and the coming months would be crucial for him to rescue his tenure.

Professor Lui Tai-lok, a sociologist with HKU, said: "Leung is facing mounting pressure as he missed the opportunity to give a full account to the public on his illegal structures."

Joseph Wong Wing-ping, the former Secretary for the Civil Service, said the coming two months would be crucial to Leung's administration.

"The policy address and the budget announced in the coming weeks will be decisive, and he will likely deliver handouts as tactic to divert public attention," he said. "If he cannot address the public concerns, July 1 could become the tipping point."

A government spokesman last night said the protesters' views would be listened to "in a humble manner".

He added that Leung was concentrating on preparing his policy address, which will work on areas including livelihood issues and the economy.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had said she hoped the rallies would be held "in a peaceful, rational and tolerant manner".

Members of the Independent Police Complaints Council were present to observe the policing of the rallies yesterday.