Posts Tagged ‘pro-independence’

Beijing needs to listen to and engage HK’s radicals

July 10, 2017

Goh Sui Noi

The battle lines have been drawn.

While reaching out to the moderate pan-democrats of Hong Kong, Chinese President Xi Jinping has declared war on the mostly young, more radical pro-democracy activists seen as separatists or pro-independence.

In a speech at a ceremony last Saturday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the Chinese fold from British colonial rule, Mr Xi made clear the central government was willing to engage with any Hong Konger of any political stripe, so long as he or she “loves the country, loves Hong Kong and genuinely supports the principle of ‘one country, two systems’ and the Basic Law”, Hong Kong’s mini-Constitution.

“One country, two systems” is the principle through which Hong Kong is allowed to have a high degree of autonomy through self-rule and to maintain its capitalist system and way of life for 50 years from the handover in 1997. However, many Hong Kongers feel that their city’s autonomy and the people’s freedoms have been eroded through increasing interference in the city’s governance by the central government.

 
Two decades after the handover to China, the former British colony evolves and suffers some growing pains under growing mainland influence.

Later on the same day, at a meeting with the newly inaugurated Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her government, the Chinese leader exhorted them “through legal means” to “strike at and contain independence activities”.

Mr Xi also served notice that he wanted an anti-subversion law, allowed for in Article 23 of the Basic Law, passed.

In his speech at the ceremony, he had also said: “Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government and the authority of the Basic Law of the HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line, and is absolutely impermissible.”

Many in Hong Kong say this will exert pressure on Mrs Lam to pass the anti-subversion law which the city’s government, under first chief executive Tung Chee Hwa, had tried to pass in 2003 but gave up after facing strong opposition from Hong Kongers. More than half a million took to the streets on July 1 that year to protest against the Bill because they were concerned that it would curtail their political freedoms.

Mr Xi also wants national education taught in Hong Kong schools, something the city’s residents have been opposing vehemently as well, for fear of “brainwashing” young minds with pro-mainland propaganda. Thousands had taken to the streets in 2012 to protest – successfully – against the attempt to introduce compulsory national education in the schools.

Hong Kongers fear “mainlandisation” – the acceptance of values and norms of the mainland. To the Chinese leader, however, national education is needed to draw the city’s people closer to the motherland.

Image result for Xi Jinping addresses Hong Kong froma military vehicle, photos

Hong Kong “needs to enhance education and raise public awareness of the history and culture of the Chinese nation”, he said in his July 1 speech.

At the same time, recognising the grievances of the city’s young people over the unaffordability of housing and the lack of social mobility, he called on the city’s government to tackle the housing problem and its elites to look into the needs of young people, helping them to solve practical problems and to make something of themselves.

Mr Xi and the central government seem to believe that resolving the economic problems of Hong Kongers – particularly those of young people – would reduce political discontent and give a measure of stability to the city riven by political differences and growing economic inequality. This and suppressing the separatist or independence forces, that is.

Lumped together with these forces are those who have not openly advocated independence but rather self-determination – a higher level of autonomy and a restoration of what they consider “real one country, two systems”, as they see this principle as having been eroded by frequent interference in the city’s governance by the central government.

This is evident in how the pro-Beijing newspapers, Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao, characterise these groups as pro-independence, said Mr Samson Yuen, 30, who teaches political science at the Open University.

Beijing sees the independence forces as a real threat, said political analyst James Sung of the City University of Hong Kong.

These mainly young, radical pro-democracy activists are still a small minority, even if they had won six seats in last year’s Legislative Council, out of 35 geographical seats.

There is therefore no attempt to reach out to these groups, with Mr Xi calling for the city’s government to strike at them and contain their activities instead.

Yet, many young Hong Kongers probably identify with or are in tune with the thinking of these groups.

The survey last month on identity by the Hong Kong University showed that only 3.1 per cent of young people aged 18 to 29 saw themselves as “Chinese” or “broadly Chinese”, a historical low. Instead, 93.7 per cent of young people see themselves broadly as a “Hong Konger”, compared with 68 per cent in 1997.

This year’s July 1 march saw very few young people, noted Mr Yuen, adding that many university student unions stayed away.

Some young people blamed the failure of the city’s democracy movement on the pro-democracy veterans and refused to cooperate with them. Instead, in recent years, particularly after the Occupy protests of 2014 that called for greater political freedoms, pro-independence and localist groups have emerged.

Groups like Demosisto that stress democratic self-determination will come under fierce attack from the government, alongside the pro-independence localists, because they have the highest political energy, said Mr Yuen.

Dr Sung is of the view that young people support the city’s core values of democracy and freedom of speech and are suspicious of the mainland’s socialist system and want to maintain a distance from the mainland.

They may not want outright independence, knowing this to be impractical. But they want to be able to determine their own future, he said.

As these young people become the main body of Hong Kong society, he warns, there would be greater ideological conflict.

With Beijing’s strategy of economic development and political suppression, coupled with national education for schoolchildren, things are likely to get worse in Hong Kong before they get better.

There is a need to listen to the young radicals, understand them better and engage them if Beijing is to prevent things from sliding further.

http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/beijing-needs-to-listen-to-and-engage-hks-radicals

See also:

China’s Xi Jinping greets PLA’s Hong Kong troops in show of force

http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/29/asia/china-xi-jinping-protesters/index.html

Related:

 (The Philippines should know that China has a nasty habit of not honoring agreements)

Hong Kong Protest Organizers Arrested Ahead of Expected Visit by China’s President

April 27, 2017

HONG KONG — The Hong Kong police arrested nine pro-democracy activists on Thursday, adding to a recent crackdown said to be aimed at defanging opposition protests ahead of an expected visit by President Xi Jinping of China in July.

“They want to silence the opposition and discourage the general public from participating in protests,” said Avery Ng, chairman of the League of Social Democrats and one of the nine people arrested over their roles in a November protest against China’s move to block two separatists from taking office as local legislators.

The arrests on Thursday followed a series of recent legal actions against opposition politicians and protest organizers in Hong Kong, a former British colony, and came just two months before the 20th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule, when President Xi is expected to visit the semiautonomous territory.

Pro-democracy groups are planning large protests against what they see as Beijing’s tightening grip on the city’s freedom, supposedly guaranteed under an arrangement known as “one country, two systems.” The groups have increasingly called for greater autonomy, if not independence, from China.

On Wednesday, two pro-independence politicians, Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung, and three of their assistants were charged over their attempt to enter Hong Kong’s legislative chamber after it refused to swear them in because they inserted anti-China snubs into their oaths of office.

Last month, the Hong Kong authorities brought criminal charges against nine other protest organizers, including the three founders of the huge protests in 2014 that paralyzed streets in several parts of the city for weeks.

Related:

More than pro-democracy 200 people took part in the protest march from Causeway Bay to the chief executive-elect’s office in Hong Kong, Sunday, April 23, 2017. Photo: Sam Tsang
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Disqualified lawmakers Yau Wai-ching, 25, (L) and Baggio Leung, 30, pose outside government headquarters in Hong Kong, China March 28, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Related:

 (Anyone who criticizes the Chinese government on WeChat is likely to be given special attention)

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 (Has links to many related articles)

Bookseller Lam Wing-kee (C) takes part in a protest march with pro-democracy lawmakers and supporters in Hong Kong, China June 18, 2016.
REUTERS/BOBBY YIP
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 (Contains many  links to articles on the Chinese human rights lawyers)

EU presses for Hong Kong electoral reform — give the government greater legitimacy — universal suffrage

April 27, 2017

Call contradicts earlier opinion of legal chief at Beijing’s liaison office

By Kimmy Chung
South China Morning Post

Thursday, April 27, 2017, 5:16pm

Disqualified Hong Kong pro-independence lawmakers Yau Wai-ching and Baggio Leung charged with unlawful assembly

April 26, 2017

Youngspiration duo arrested over chaos at Legislative Council meeting in November

By Ng Kang-chung and Joyce Ng
South China Morning Post

Wednesday, April 26, 2017, 11:37pm

Hong Kong’s Next Leader is Carrie Lam — “Hong Kong needs new thinking.” — “Fake” Chinese-style democracy won’t work

March 26, 2017

Hong Kong’s new leader chosen by Beijing in “fake democracy” process — China’s record of failing to deliver promised political reform continues

March 26, 2017

AFP

© Vincent Yu, AFP | Carrie Lam (right) and defeated candidate John Tsang during a televised debate in Hong Kong on March 14, 2017.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-03-26

Beijing favourite Carrie Lam was selected as Hong Kong’s new leader on Sunday by a mainly pro-China committee, in an election dismissed as a sham by democracy activists who fear the loss of the city’s cherished freedoms.

It is the first leadership vote since mass “Umbrella Movement” rallies calling for fully free elections in 2014 failed to win reforms and comes after a turbulent term under current chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

Leung, who is seen by opponents as a Beijing puppet, and will step down in July after five years in charge.

Hong Kong is semi-autonomous and has been governed under a “one country, two systems” deal since it was handed back to China by Britain in 1997.

But, 20 years on, there are serious concerns Beijing is disregarding the handover agreement designed to protect Hong Kong’s way of life.

Around three quarters of the 1,194 members of the election committee were from the mainland camp.

An emotional Lam bowed to supporters at it was announced she had won comprehensively with 777 votes against 365 for her more moderate establishment rival John Tsang.

The third and most liberal candidate, Woo Kwok-hing, received just 21 votes.

Frustration at what activists see as China’s increasing influence and a lack of promised political reform has sparked calls for self-determination for Hong Kong, or even a complete split from China.

Lam was widely seen as Beijing’s pick for the job throughout the race and will become Hong Kong’s first ever woman chief executive.

She is intensely disliked by the pro-democracy camp after promoting the Beijing-backed reform package that sparked 2014’s massive protests.

That plan said the public could choose the city leader in 2017, but insisted candidates must be vetted first.

It was eventually voted down in parliament by pro-democracy lawmakers and reforms have been shelved ever since.

Hundreds of protesters including leading pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong gathered near the harbour-front voting venue.

They chanted: “Oppose central authority appointment, we choose our own government!”

Protesters were held back by police as some tried to push through barriers.

Nearby, pro-China supporters played marching music surrounded by national and city flags.

Rebel legislator Nathan Law, who as a lawmaker has an automatic vote, said he would enter a blank ballot.

“It is still a selection from the Beijing government,” Law told AFP.

Uphill struggle

Representatives of a broad number of sectors, from business to education, sit on the committee that chooses the chief executive, but the vast majority of the city’s 3.8 million electorate have no say in the vote.

Leading business figures including Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-shing waved to reporters as they went in to cast their votes.

Pro-democracy committee members threw their weight behind Lam’s main rival, ex-finance secretary Tsang.

But activists said he was still on the side of Beijing rejected the vote outright as unrepresentative of Hong Kong people.

Lam will face an uphill struggle to unite a city in which young people in particular have lost faith in the political system and their overall prospects.

With salaries too low to meet the cost of property in an overpriced market fuelled by mainland money, getting ahead in life is seen as increasingly difficult.

She says she will try to build consensus by focusing on social issues, including poverty and housing.

But critics say she is dodging the bigger political questions and will pave the way for Beijing to extend its influence.

That anxiety comes off the back of a number of incidents under Leung that rocked public confidence.

They include the disappearance in 2015 of five Hong Kong booksellers known for publishing salacious titles about China’s political elite. The booksellers all resurfaced in detention on the mainland.

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Books banned by China In Hong Kong. Photo by Todd Darling, HKFP.

 

Last year, the disqualification from parliament of two publicly elected pro-independence lawmakers following a Beijing intervention also prompted accusations the city’s legislature had been seriously compromised.

Two ousted pro-independence Hong Kong lawmakers on Wednesday announced they were making a final bid to overturn a controversial Beijing-linked ban preventing them from taking up their seats in parliament.

Yau Wai-ching and Baggio Leung were elected in citywide polls in September but deliberately misread their oaths of office during their swearing-in ceremony, inserting expletives and draping themselves with “Hong Kong is not China” flags.

This prompted a rare interference by Chinese authorities.

Pro-independence lawmakers Baggio Leung (L) and Yau Wai-ching were elected in citywide Hong Kong polls in September but deliberately misread their oaths of o...

Pro-independence lawmakers Baggio Leung (L) and Yau Wai-ching were elected in citywide Hong Kong polls in September but deliberately misread their oaths of office during their swearing-in ceremony ©Anthony WALLACE (AFP/File)

The pair were amongst a handful of rebel candidates who took seats for the first time after the September polls, advocating either independence or self-determination for the southern Chinese city.

Related:

© AFP | Protesters attend a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong on March 25, 2017

From Peace and Freedom judicial analyst in China: “Many in the West may not know that much of the Beijing government has a Coterie that too frequently stretches the laws of “normal” legal behaviour. Men get kidnapped. Some get killed. Arms get broken. Wives go missing. It is much like an American mafia movie.”

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China's Wukan Democracy Experiment Comes to a Violent End
Phalanx of Chinese police in Wukan “The Democracy Village” — September 2016: Image Credit– Wukan villagers via @xianyanyu
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Nine residents of ‘democracy village’ to serve up to 10 years over unrest sparked by imprisonment of an elected leader and simmering land disputes

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Protesters attend a candlelight vigil in support of China’s Wukan democracy  village outside the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong on Sept. 17, 2017. (Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images)

Independence protests as ex-Catalan chief stands trial — Thousands of protesters shouting “down with Spain’s justice system”

February 6, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Daniel BOSQUE and Michaela CANCELA-KIEFFER | Artur Mas poses with other members of the Catalan government and supporters as he arrives in court

BARCELONA (AFP) – Thousands of protesters shouting “down with Spain’s justice system” turned up Monday in Barcelona at the trial of Catalonia’s former leader Artur Mas, accused of civil disobedience for holding an independence referendum in 2014.The trial has stoked pro-independence sentiment in the wealthy, northeastern region of Catalonia at a time of high tensions between the local separatist government and Madrid.

Shouting “independence, independence”, “down with Spain’s justice system” and “we want to vote,” several thousand Mas supporters gathered on a large palm tree-lined avenue next to the courthouse where the trial of the ex-Catalan president and two former associates began.

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They are accused of serious civil disobedience and misconduct for having organised a symbolic, non-binding referendum in November 2014 despite a ban by Spain’s Constitutional Court, which deemed it illegal.

Prosecutors want them banned from holding public office for nine to 10 years, but their defence argues they were merely defending “the right to freedom of expression” of Catalans, many of whom want a say in the future of their 7.5-million strong region.

“We are determined to go forward. We did what had to be done in 2014 and we would do it again if the circumstances allow it again,” Mas told a press conference in Barcelona on Sunday.

– ‘Defending democracy’ –

Catalonia, a region with its own language and customs, has long demanded greater autonomy.

But in recent years, tensions with Madrid have markedly increased, as have calls for outright independence, culminating with the election in 2015 of a pro-independence government in Catalonia backed by a majority separatist parliament.

A watershed moment was in 2010, when Spain’s Constitutional Court watered down a special statute awarded to Catalonia in 2006 under the Socialist government, giving it more powers.

Supporters of independence slammed what they said was “judicial harassment” and asked for a referendum similar to the one organised in Scotland in 2014.

After the Constitutional Court banned that, Mas and his associates held the non-binding vote for which they are on trial.

Catalonia’s current government has promised to hold a referendum in September — a binding one this time, with or without Madrid’s consent.

But how exactly it will go ahead is unclear, as the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy insists that this type of local, one-region-only referendum is unconstitutional, and has vowed never to allow it.

Last week, reports emerged in several national dailies that Madrid was considering drastic measures to stop a vote, such as closing schools where polling booths could be set up or taking control of the police, which is normally managed by regional authorities.

The government neither confirmed nor denied the reports.

The Catalans themselves, meanwhile, remain divided — 44.9 percent want independence while 45.1 percent don’t, according to a recent poll conducted by a Catalan public institute.

A large majority, however, wants a referendum.

by Daniel BOSQUE and Michaela CANCELA-KIEFFER
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Thousands Protest as Former Catalonia Head Starts Referendum Trial — “Informal referendum on independence was a breach of a legal order”

February 6, 2017

BARCELONA, Spain — Thousands of protesters gathered outside a Barcelona court on Monday as the former head of the eastern Spanish region of Catalonia went on trial for staging a 2014 informal referendum on independence in breach of a legal order.

Catalonia, a Mediterranean region with its own language and culture, is home to a strong separatist movement and pro-independence campaigners held a vote two years ago on whether to break away from Spain while Artur Mas was regional governor.

The poll was carried out without legal backing because the central Spanish government blocked it in the courts, saying it was against the constitution. The symbolic ballot was manned by volunteers to get around the restrictions.

No automatic alt text available.

Mas, who stepped down as leader last year, stands accused of disobedience against the state and wrong-doing as a public official. He could face a 10-year ban from public office if found guilty.

“Today, many of us feel as if we’re being tried,” current regional head Carles Puigdemont said outside the court surrounded by allied Catalan politicians, regional flags and supporters with signs calling for independence.

The trial comes at a time of high tension between Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s minority government and Catalonia, where a vehemently pro-independence local administration took power in 2015.

The regional administration has vowed to hold an official referendum on its potential split from Spain later this year.

Rajoy has continued to stonewall any talk of a referendum, saying he is open to dialogue but reiterating that a ballot on independence is against the law.

“We can talk but everyone must obey the law,” he said on Friday in Malta.

(Reporting By Albert Gea, Writing by Sonya Dowsett, Editing by Paul Day and Angus MacSwan)

Related:

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BBC News

Catalan trial: Big crowds for Artur Mas independence vote case

Former Catalan President Artur Mas (second right) appears at the TSJC (Superior Court of Catalonia) in Barcelona, 6 February 2017

Mr Mas and members of the Catalan government sing the Catalan national anthem outside the court. Getty Images

Thousands of supporters filled the streets outside a court in Barcelona on Monday as the former Catalan president Artur Mas went on trial.

He is accused of involvement in the Spanish region’s unofficial vote on independence in November 2014.

Mr Mas is accused of serious civil disobedience after the vote went ahead in defiance of Spain’s constitutional court.

Prosecutors are calling for him to be disqualified from office for ten years.

It is the first time that a leader of the Catalan government has gone on trial. Artur Mas is going on trial with two former associates. The case is being used by pro-independence supporters to galvanise their campaign, and the current government has promised to hold a new vote in September.

Read more here: Will Catalonia try to secede this year?

The 9 November 2014 vote, which was not binding, went ahead despite fierce opposition by the Spanish government.

Catalan officials say more than 80% of those who voted backed independence, however only two million voters out of an estimated 5.4 million eligible took part.

Catalonia is one of Spain’s richest and most highly-industrialised regions, and also one of the most independent-minded.

With a distinct history stretching back to the early Middle Ages, many Catalans think of themselves as a separate nation from the rest of Spain.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38878688

Unsolved problems hang over Hong Kong leader’s last policy address as mainland interference seen as threatening the city’s autonomy

January 18, 2017

Reuters

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying sits behind security guards before his policy address at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip
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By James Pomfret and Donny Kwok | HONG KONG
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Hong Kong’s leader on Wednesday delivered his last annual policy statement before stepping down, addressing longstanding problems including high property prices and stalled political reform though providing no substantial new measures to tackle them.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying took office in 2012 pledging to make housing more affordable, and to bring greater democracy to the city of 7.2 million, issues that had also stymied his predecessors.

Home prices have bucked repeated cooling measures, including a hefty new sales tax in November, to rise ever higher, putting prices on a par with those in New York and London.

Political reforms have stalled amid growing worries among democracy activists about mainland interference that they see threatening the city’s autonomy.

Demands for fully democratic city elections triggered Hong Kong’s most tumultuous protests for decades in late 2014 but Beijing refused to make any concessions.

Leung said surging property prices posed the “gravest potential hazard” to society and he reiterated a need to increase the supply of land, including through reclamation and expanding new towns.

“If the government and the community do not resolve to expedite the identification of land for housing production, the housing problem will remain a tough nut to crack,” Leung said.

Only seven percent of city land is zoned for housing and the average price per square foot of city flats is about HK$10,700 ($1,380), spawning a boom in ever smaller “mini” flats no bigger than a car parking space. [L4N1F81CQ]

In the next decade, 460,000 housing units are expected to be built, he said.

SMALL PROTEST

Politically, Leung has been divisive. He is viewed by many democracy activists as close to the Beijing leadership.

He stressed in his address that the city remains an inalienable part of the mainland.

“There is no room for independence or any kind of separation,” he said.

“It is the obligation of each and every Hong Kong citizen to safeguard our country’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.”

His administration used teargas against protesters during the 2014 “Umbrella Revolution” that blocked major roads in Hong Kong for 79 days.

Leung’s push to ban lawmakers advocating self-determination or independence triggered a highly contentious “interpretation” of Hong Kong’s mini constitution by China’s parliament last year, raising questions about the independence of the city’s judiciary.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” arrangement granting the city a high degree of autonomy, but worries about creeping Beijing control over the city have arisen in recent years.

Before he spoke on Wednesday, a small group of protesters threw fake money at Leung, calling him a “liar” for not keeping policy promises, while a pro-democracy lawmaker held up a effigy of Leung resembling a monkey.

Leung said recurrent expenditure on social welfare would increase to HK$66.2 billion ($8.5 billion), a nearly 55 percent rise compared with four years ago. Allowances for about half a million elderly would be increased by almost a third.

He said the government would also “progressively abolish” a controversial provision concerning retirement funds that has allowed companies to offset severance and long-service payouts by dipping into individual mandatory provident funds.

Business lobby groups fiercely oppose the government’s decision to abolish the provision.

($1 = 7.7559 Hong Kong dollars)

(Additional reporting by Twinnie Siu, Donny Kwok and Anne-marie Roantree; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel)

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Hong Kong’s outgoing leader has issued a warning in his farewell policy speech to those advocating independence for the Chinese-controlled territory.

In his annual address to the legislature, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said Wednesday that Hong Kong is an “inalienable” part of China.

He said, “There is absolutely no room for independence or any form of separation.”

The latter part of Leung’s five-year term has been marked by growing separatist sentiment following massive 2014 pro-democracy protests that failed to sway the government’s position on restricting electoral reform.

Last year, Leung’s government took a tough stance against two newly elected lawmakers, taking legal action to disqualify them after they used their swearing-in ceremonies to mount apparent protests against China and express pro-independence views.

Related:

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Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung

New Year’s Day rally in Hong Kong — Against heavy handed direction from Beijing — “Sovereignty belongs to the people!”

January 1, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Protesters including pro-democracy lawmakers Lau Siu-lai (bottom C), Edward Yiu (behind Lau) and Nathan Law (bottom L) carry a banner reading “Sovereignty belongs to the people!” during a New Year’s Day rally in Hong Kong on January 1, 2017

HONG KONG (AFP) – Thousands of protesters, chanting “Sovereignty belongs to the people!” marched through Hong Kong on New Year’s Day to protest at the government’s legal bid to unseat some pro-democracy lawmakers.

The four popularly elected legislators, who led the rally, were the latest targets of a government move which pro-democracy parties describe as a witch hunt.

It came after the city’s courts ousted two pro-independence lawmakers for failing to swear their oaths of office correctly, a move backed by Beijing.

The Hong Kong government now wants to bar the other four legislators for alleged breaches in their swearing-in ceremony and in their oaths of allegiance.

“We can see that under Hong Kong’s rule of law, the government, with its unlimited resources, will use legal procedures to bully leaders and representatives with fewer resources,” Joshua Wong, a prominent student leader, told AFP at the rally.

“This has shown that ‘One Country, Two Systems’ is a failure and we should use the 20th anniversary of the handover to reflect on our political situation.”

Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 under a deal which gives it broad autonomy and preserves its freedoms and the rule of law for 50 years. But there are fears these freedoms are being eroded by Beijing.

“The four lawmakers are genuinely concerned about the future of Hong Kong to ensure that our core values will be maintained,” Peggy Ng, a retired civil servant, told AFP at the rally.

“Particularly, that our next generations will enjoy the freedoms that I have enjoyed before.”

A protester raises a picture of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying with a Chinese word “Prisoner” on his face during a rally on the first day of 2017 in Hong Kong, Sunday, Jan. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

A protester raises a picture of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying with a Chinese word “Prisoner” on his face during a rally on the first day of 2017 in Hong Kong, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. They protest against Beijing’s… (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Court proceedings against the four are scheduled to start in February.

Organisers of the march said 9,150 people attended, while police estimated an maximum attendance of 4,800.

A 1,200-strong pro-Beijing committee will elect Hong Kong’s next leader in March.

The current unpopular chief executive Leung Chun-ying has announced he will not seek re-election, citing family reasons.

Banners at the march caricatured the likely election candidates and highlighted their pro-establishment positions.

Sunday’s rally also sought to raise funds for the four lawmakers to fight the government’s challenge in court.

The two ousted pro-independence lawmakers separately announced last week they were making a final legal bid to overturn their exclusion from the legislature.

Image may contain: one or more people, crowd and outdoor

Thousands of people march on the first day of 2017 at a downtown street in Hong Kong Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, to protest against Beijing’s interpretation of Basic Law and Hong Kong government’s bid to ban pro-democracy… (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)