Huge turnout expected for July 1 march as Tropical Storm Rumbia nears
Amid claims of threats and attempts to deter protesters, organisers of rally are confident of mass support in campaign for universal suffrage
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Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to take to the streets of Hong Kong for the annual July 1 march today to demand universal suffrage and action on social issues.
Pro-democracy groups are confident the turnout on the day that marks the 16th year since the handover will be massive, despite alleged threats and attempts to deter people from marching.
University of Hong Kong associate law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an organiser of the Occupy Central movement, said the turnout would give an indication of how many people will join the programme of civil disobedience due to start next year.
The weather, however, may be a factor. The Hong Kong Observatory said it would consider issuing typhoon signal No 3 today as tropical storm Rumbia edged closer to Hong Kong.
The march will be postponed until next Sunday if a No 8 or a black rainstorm signal is raised.
Icarus Wong Ho-yin, vice-convenor of march organiser the Civil Human Rights Front, said social grievances in the city were now more severe and numerous than in 2003, when 500,000 people took to the streets on July 1.
"C.Y. has not delivered what he has promised," Wong said.
"The lives of Hongkongers have been getting worse, with an obvious example being the wide poverty gap."
He said he could not say if the turnout today would be higher than in 2003, but he nonetheless expected a huge number of people on the streets. League of Social Democrats lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung received a call from an unknown man at around 8.20pm on Saturday, asking him not to join the march or he and people around him would "face the consequences".
Leung said: "I have received calls before in which the callers have insulted me and threatened to kill me. But this time it was different … He even suggested I should go on a trip because his boss does not like me."
But Leung, who filed a complaint with police yesterday, said nothing would stop him joining the march.
Media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying also appears to have been targeted. He said that last week, two masked men torched copies of Apple Daily in a gesture he suspects is linked to the newspaper's pro-democracy stance.
Wong said such threats would just make Hongkongers more determined to protest. Meanwhile, Occupy Central organiser and Chinese University professor Chan Kin-man called on people to join the protest and to assemble at Statue Square in Central after the march.
But he said protesters should not stay in the square to stage any kind of "Occupy" demonstration.
"The timing [for Occupy Central] will only be suitable when the central government gives Hong Kong people a proposal for universal suffrage that is not up to international standards," Chan said.
Separately, Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po pledged that no matter how many people join the rally today, government officials will listen to their demands humbly.
"We can see that we have faced a certain level of difficulty in our work … Each and every one of us will not back down or get frustrated," Chan said.
Marchers will leave Victoria Park at 2.30pm. They will march along Yee Wo Street to Hennessy Road and on to Statue Square.
Additional reporting by Johnny Tam and Christy Choi