Don't misread mood, organisers warn The July 1 pro-democracy march has become unpopular with Hongkongers, a state leader said yesterday, drawing fire from the organiser of Friday's 21,000-strong protest. Asked his views on the march, State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan said: 'I noted a view of Hong Kong newspapers that the scale and turnout is getting smaller and smaller. It has become unpopular.' His comments were the first by a mainland leader on the protest, which drew a turnout just 4 per cent that of the July 1 marches in 2003 and last year. Speaking during a visit with President Hu Jintao to Kazakhstan, Mr Tang, who oversees Hong Kong affairs, said stability and prosperity were top priorities for the city. Li Gang , deputy director of Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong, said although demonstrations were a way for people to express their views, mainstream opinion favoured stability and developing the economy. Bobo Yip Po-lam, vice-convenor of Civil Human Rights Front, which organised the march and those in 2003 and last year, said it was dangerous for Beijing to misread the situation. She called Mr Tang's comment 'an insult to all the marchers'. 'Is he saying that the voices of 21,000 were not demands? We still have so many people marching despite the central government's offensive to help Hong Kong's economy. Mr Tang really needs to rethink,' Ms Yip said. Frontier legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing asked: 'What does he mean by unpopular? Some people stayed home just because they want to give the government a chance. If Beijing adopts this approach, then they will suddenly find hundreds of thousands marching in a few months' time.' Ma Lik, chairman of the pro-government Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said that, given the improved social atmosphere, the turnout was still substantial. 'It indicates that members of the public still have discontent with the government. The administration should continue to listen to the voices of the people,' he said. A mainland researcher assessing Hong Kong's political situation said the turnout showed that people's grievances had eased in the light of economic recovery and Tung Chee-hwa's resignation as chief executive. 'It indicates that the central government's policy towards Hong Kong in the past two years has reaped fruit,' the researcher said.