Hong Kong protesters march ahead of Tiananmen anniversary

Story highlights

  • At least 1,900 Hong Kongers took the streets to call for democracy
  • Marcher: "My main concern is to end one-party rule in China"
  • Protest foreshadows even larger planned demonstrations

At least 1,900 Hong Kongers took the streets to call for democracy on a sweltering Sunday afternoon, an energetic prelude to Wednesday's scheduled mass vigil honoring the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

The protesters, many of whom were students, marched to Hong Kong's government headquarters shouting "democracy now" and "end one-party rule."

A team carried a massive banner demanding Chinese leaders formally acknowledge what happened on June 4th, 1989, while others carried signs demanding the release of political prisoners such as Nobel Prize-winning dissident Liu Xiaobo.

One of the lead marchers was Yvonne Leung, 20, the president of the Hong Kong University Students Union.

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"Personally, my main concern is to end one-party rule in China, because the Communist Party is ruling illegitimately," she said. "It doesn't have the Chinese's people's mandate... and it is not acceptable. Democracy is a universal value."

Another protester, 21-year-old Vincent Wong, said he was protesting to keep the memory of the Tiananmen victims alive.

"The Tiananmen Square massacre was a mistake," he said. "Mistakes can be forgiven, but history cannot be forgotten."

    Doubts over free speech

    The former British colony is currently the only place within Chinese territory where large pro-democracy demonstrations are tolerated.

    Still, many of its residents are worried that the city's freedoms are steadily eroding.

    In February, journalists organized a 6,500-person rally decrying what they said were increasing levels of coercion against Hong Kong press.

    Days after the rally, a prominent Hong Kong news editor known for his hard-hitting coverage of China was stabbed by unidentified assailants. The attack, which is still being investigated, was seen by many local journalists a symbol of the city's declining press freedom.

    "If a respected editor could be attacked in such a blatant and ruthless manner, no one in the news-gathering business is safe," wrote South China Morning Post columnist Alex Lo.

    This year, French-based Reporters Without Borders ranked Hong Kong 61st worldwide in press freedom — a precipitous drop from its 18th place ranking in 2002.

    READ MORE: Hong Kong press freedom at all-time low

    Calls for electoral reform

    The city is also facing an impending showdown with Beijing over electoral reform.

    Pan-democrat Hong Kongers want the city's general population to be able to nominate and elect its next chief executive, but Hong Kong's pro-Beijing politicians have argued that a small committee should select only candidates who "love China."

    Later this month, a pro-democracy group called Occupy Central plans to hold an unofficial citywide referendum asking Hong Kong's citizens to vote for their preferred type of electoral reform, a move that has irked the city's pro-Beijing establishment.

    If the results show support for public nomination and elections, Occupy Central says it will block traffic in Hong Kong's crowded downtown to pressure the government to adopt its reforms.

    A January poll by the non-partisan Hong Kong Transition Project found 38% of Hong Kongers supported Occupy Central's proposed civil disobedience, while 54% opposed it.

    China's vice president has warned that such a protest would be "unlawful" and would "wreck the stability and prosperity" of the city.

    For now, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers are expected to attend the city's annual June 4th vigil, where the Communist Party is certain to come under vicious public criticism.

    More loud protests are guaranteed. What's less certain is whether Hong Kong will find a political solution.