Police say anti-Occupy Central turnout was higher than July 1 march
Pro-Beijing alliance says turnout shows many Hongkongers are against civil disobedience campaign, despite claims of protest recruitment
Ng Kang-chung, Jeffie Lam, and Nectar Gan
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Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets yesterday in protest at the threat by Occupy Central campaigners to paralyse Central and pressure Beijing into giving Hong Kong "genuine" universal suffrage.
Among those leading the march, organised by the pro-establishment Alliance for Peace and Democracy, were executive councillors Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, Cheung Chi-kong, Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, and Cheng Yiu-tong.
There were also large numbers of mainland tourists and organised groups of elderly participants from leftist associations.
Watch: Why Anti-Occupy Central demonstrators occupied Central, the answer is unclear
Shouts of "Against Occupy Central" echoed through the streets as the crowds marched from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to Chater Garden in Central.
Police said about 111,000 people took part, compared with its estimate of roughly 98,600 for the pro-democracy march on July 1. The University of Hong Kong public opinion programme put the number at between 79,000 and 88,000, roughly half of its estimate for the July 1 march.
An initial estimate by the alliance put the figure at 193,000.
The protest was peaceful apart from some minor clashes between marchers and opponents. Four men aged between 36 to 58 were arrested. Another marcher threw eggs at radical People Power activists.
A statement from Hong Kong police said: "Police received several incident reports in the course of the event, including assault, criminal damage and a person throwing eggs." It added officers "handled the incidents in a fair and just manner".
Amid conflicting reports on the size of the crowd, rumours flew of participants being strong-armed into attending and of people being offered a free lunch or money. Many restaurants in the area reported full houses. Tour buses were also seen streaming into Victoria Park, reportedly bringing people from across the border.
Starry Lee Wai-king, an executive councillor and lawmaker from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said: "The turnout shows many Hong Kong people do not want to see Occupy Central happen. [The Occupy Central] activists have gone too far."
The march marked the end of the alliance's month-long petition campaign against Occupy Central during which nearly 1.5 million people signed, beating the 800,000 who voted in an unofficial referendum held in June by Occupy Central organisers.
Dr Chan Kin-man, an organiser of Occupy Central, said he respected the freedom of speech of the marchers. "I hope they can understand that Occupy Central will only be our last resort," he said.
A government spokesman said: "The [Hong Kong] government welcomes and supports all activities which take forward the implementation of universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2017 in accordance with the law and opposes all unlawful acts which affect social order and the betterment of our people."
Dr James Sung Lap-kung, a City University political scientist, said that whatever the size of the march's crowd, it would not stop the Occupy Central movement.