June 30, 2006

Thousands expected to march on Hong Kong anniversary

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Thousands of people were expected to
turn out for a democracy march in Hong Kong on Saturday marking
the ninth anniversary of the former British colony's return to
Chinese rule.

Pro-democracy lawmakers and activists have made a publicity
push in the past week to convince people to attend, and the
Apple Daily newspaper estimated on Saturday that as many as
50,000 people could join the protest, an annual event in the
city of nearly 7 million people.

In a move that political analysts say will help boost
support, one of Hong Kong's best known and respected political
figures, former Chief Secretary Anson Chan, emerged from
retirement to back the march and call for democracy.

Hong Kong has been governed since 1997 under a "one
country, two systems" formula that affords it a high degree of
autonomy from the Communist Party-led mainland. However,
Beijing has dictated the scope and pace of political reforms.

Hong Kong's leader, known as the Chief Executive, is picked
by an 800-member electoral committee stacked in Beijing's
favor, and only half of the 60-seat legislature is directly

In 2003, about half a million people took part in the July
1 march to call for democracy and to protest against an
anti-subversion law that then-chief executive Tung Chee-hwa was
trying to ram through the legislature.

The economy was also weak and many were unhappy with the
way the government had handled the SARS outbreak. The following
year, roughly the same number of people marched.

Last year, however, the number dwindled to near 50,000 with
the economy recovering strongly and the resignation of the
unpopular Tung.

Many were predicting smaller numbers still this year as
polls show rising public satisfaction with the government.

"Some people say now that Hong Kong's economy is recovering
and people's lives are turning there isn't any need to have a
march for democracy. Of course the economic turn for the better
is worth being happy about," an Apple Daily editorial said.

"But economic improvements and the struggle for democracy
are two different issues. No matter if the economy is good or
bad, the people should actively struggle for their right to be
masters of their own house."

Meanwhile, some 30,000 people were expected to join a
pro-Beijing parade.