Tens of thousands of demonstrators hit the streets yesterday in protest against the proposed anti-subversion law, in the biggest public march since the handover. Organisers claimed that more than 60,000 marchers - 12 times more than originally expected - turned out for the four-hour march from Victoria Park to the Central Government Offices, while police estimated that up to 12,000 left the park when the rally began at 3pm. Observers said the large turnout by a wide cross-section of society indicated that public anger was boiling over - not just at the government's failure to heed calls to protect rights and freedom, but also as a way to express grievances at government mismanagement. The march marked the latest chapter in the government's plan to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law, which aims to ban acts of treason, subversion, sedition and theft of state secrets. The proposal has been criticised by human rights watchers and a legal expert as vague and a possible trap for the innocent. Countries including the US, Britain and Europe have also expressed their concerns. The government plans to table a bill to the legislature in February after the three-month consultation period ends on Christmas Eve. By 2pm, hundreds of protesters had already assembled in Victoria Park, where more than 2,500 Christians - all wearing purple ribbons to signify hope - sang hymns and prayed against the proposal. Catholic Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, who has been vocal against the proposed law, led the prayers. 'Lord, the government and its leaders were fearful of being challenged. We pray that you will dispel their fear and [that the government] will listen more with wisdom and love, so there will be better and humane protection for Hong Kong,' he said. At the other end of the park, hundreds of pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Union members staged a carnival in support of the bill. They had hired all the football pitches in the park. The procession marched towards Central amid rows of onlookers, many of whom joined the march on the spur of the moment. Among the 40-odd groups represented by the marchers were pro-democracy political parties, the Professional Teachers Union, and the Confederation of Trade Unions. A team of barristers including Bar Association chairman Alan Leong Ka-kit, journalists' groups, right-of-abode seekers and the Falun Gong took part. Despite jeering from the pro-Beijing unionists, who tried to disrupt Bishop Zen's prayers by banging drums and directing loudspeakers towards him, the protesters received general support on the way from many onlookers. Many waved anti-Article 23 posters carried by a Chinese-language newspaper. As the vanguard reached the government headquarters at 5.30pm, Lee Cheuk-yan, one of the organisers, said the high turnout showed people were afraid the mainland system would be introduced into the SAR through Article 23. 'We fear that after the law is enacted, terror will come to Hong Kong and curb the healthy development of society - all sorts of freedoms would be eroded,' he said. Legislator Martin Lee Chu-ming, former chairman of the Democrats, said: 'This is the anger of the people.' Mak Yin-ting, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said the traditionally neutral body felt it had to speak out against the threat to free speech and the media. More than 100 members marched. Association members have not taken part in a protest march since a Ming Pao journalist, Xi Yang, was jailed on the mainland eight years ago for breaching official secrets laws. Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at City University, said: 'We have reached a crisis stage where so many people are unhappy with the government. Despite their anger towards Article 23, many here today also doubt the government's ability to govern. The government will be stupid if it keeps refusing to listen to the people.' The Security Bureau said in a statement last night the government would 'take careful note' of views expressed by protesters. Police said yesterday they had warned the march organisers about failing to keep the protest number at the previously agreed 5,000 in their rally application. But they said no prosecution would be launched. Protests against Article 23 were also staged in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal yesterday by Hong Kong migrants.