Rain showers and an early start were not enough to put off the first protesters of July 1, as up to 20 members of the League of Social Democrats called for open elections and burned a copy of Beijing's white paper outside the flag-raising ceremony in Bauhinia Square on Tuesday morning.
Holding banners, they chanted “We want public nomination” and “We do not fear the white paper”, a reference to Beijing’s unprecedented policy paper on “one country, two systems” released earlier this month.
Meanwhile, at a reception in Wan Chai after the flag-raising ceremony celebrating the 17th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said that the city’s residents should avoid doing anything that might damage Hong Kong’s “prosperity and stability”.
Leung was speaking amid plans by the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement to stage a sit-in in the heart of the city if Leung’s administration fails to deliver a plan for the 2017 chief executive election that would guarantee voters a genuine choice between candidates.
The Federation of Students and the student-led group Scholarism announced plans on Monday to stage a similar sit-in after Tuesday’s main pro-democracy rally in Chater Road, and outside the chief executive’s office in Admiralty, until 8am on Wednesday morning.
— Chris Lau (@hkchrislau) June 30, 2014 
Offering a positive assessment of the state of Hong Kong, Leung also told the reception that income levels among the city’s poorest residents are on the rise, and said home prices and rents are “under control”.
At about 7:20am, the protest group began its march from outside the Family Planning Association building in Wan Chai and continued along the footbridge towards Immigration Tower.
Two protesters carried a coffin. “This is to remember the victims of June 4 and those who died because of the authoritarian regime,” said League member Koo Sze-yiu.
“It also signifies that when Beijing released the white paper, it was already the end of the ‘one country, two systems’ promise,” he added.
A short row with police ensued at Harbour Road, as the group were told to wait at the junction for a few minutes.
One woman tried to hang a prop on a signpost on Convention Avenue, which was the closest the protest was allowed to get to Bauhinia Square.
Protesters burned a picture of Leung Chun-ying and a copy of the white paper, saying Beijing had lied about Hong Kong keeping a high degree of autonomy from the mainland.
From the designated protest spot, the flag-raising ceremony was nowhere in sight.
This woman, yelling "Down CY Leung", broke through bottleneck on harbour Road and dashed further to opp. of HKCEC pic.twitter.com/rWnSYBYO5v 
— Chris Lau (@hkchrislau) June 30, 2014 
The ceremony itself was attended by a large number of mainland tourists, but a group of elderly people holding flags representing different districts of Hong Kong could also be seen.
The League of Social Democrats are no strangers to protesting during the annual tradition, the prelude to the massive rally that will take place later on Tuesday afternoon.
But this was the first year that the group was without its leader, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, who is still serving a four-week jail sentence for charges related to a protest in 2011.
Organisers of this year’s main march have said they expect a large turnout – as many as half a million – largely due to the controversial white paper in which Beijing emphasised its total authority over Hong Kong.
The paper sparked fears that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and independent judiciary could be under threat.
— Chris Lau (@hkchrislau) July 1, 2014 
Occupy Central’s unofficial referendum on options for the 2017 election, dismissed by Beijing as “illegal”, is also expected to drive up attendance.
Anger at the government’s handling of its new-towns project in the New Territories, which has prompted sustained protests, may also push Hongkongers onto the streets later.
The decision taken by the chairman of the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee, Ng Leung-sing, to rush through a vote on preliminary funding for the project – despite pan-democrat lawmakers missing the vote as they attempted to raise questions – sparked outrage last week.
The main march will begin at 2.30pm in Victoria Park, and protesters have told police they will remain in Chater Road until midnight.
Police said they would assign 4,000 officers to keep order during Tuesday’s march.
At the reception following the flag-raising ceremony, Leung Chun-ying emphasised the need for stability in Hong Kong.
"At present, there is mild economic growth and people’s employment is not a problem,” the chief executive said.
“Grassroots’ income is [increasing], prices are stable, housing prices and rent increases are under control, the government has a financial surplus.
“This scenario needs to be defended by everyone, who should avoid doing anything that affects Hong Kong’s stability and damages Hong Kong’s prosperity,” Leung said.
Issues such as mainlanders buying up properties in Hong Kong and parallel-goods traders could be resolved through “mutual understanding”, the chief executive added.