Tens of thousands marched in Hong Kong on the first day of 2013 to call for the city’s Beijing-backed leader to step down over claims that he lied about illegal renovations at his mansion and to press for full democracy.
Police said 26,000 people joined the march at its peak yesterday, while organisers said 130,000 took part.
They carried banners and chanted slogans urging the leader, Leung Chun-ying, to resign. Some held signs depicting him as Pinocchio or with wolf-like fangs, a play on Mr Leung’s nickname, the wolf.
One demonstrator was dressed as a wolf wearing a Communist Red Guard uniform, a reference to fears over Mr Leung’s close ties to China’s leaders. Many waved Hong Kong’s British colonial-era flag.
In the evening, about 2,500 members of a small radical group briefly blocked several roads after they were stopped by authorities from marching to Mr Leung’s official government residence. At one point, protesters pushed and shoved with police.
In a sign of the widening political divisions in the semi-autonomous region 15 years after Britain handed control back to China, thousands of others joined a rival march held in support of Mr Leung on the same day by pro-government groups. Organisers of that march said 60,000 people took part while police put the number at 8,000.
The day of protest comes half a year after Mr Leung took office after being chosen by a 1,193-member committee of mostly pro-Beijing elites. Mr Leung won the job of Hong Kong’s leader, known as the chief executive, after a scandal over a huge, illegal basement brought down his rival.
But illegal structures were later discovered at Mr Leung’s house, prompting MPs to accuse him of covering it up and calling for his impeachment. Demonstrators are using the controversy to push for full democracy for Hong Kong.
Mr Leung’s popularity has plunged since he took office because of the scandal over his house and other controversies.
Mr Leung “is not honest. As chief executive, he cannot convince the public that he is a leader with credibility”, said Sandy Chung, a clerk. “I don’t want Hong Kong to be led by a person without credibility.”
Another protester, designer Calvin Tse, said he was upset that he did not have a say in choosing the city’s leader.
“We don’t even have a vote, he is elected by a small group of people. We cannot use our voting right to express our view no matter how his performance is,” Mr Tse said.
Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 and granted Western-style civil liberties not seen on mainland China. Beijing has pledged that Hong Kong’s leader can be elected directly by 2017. Full democracy for the legislature, where some representatives are chosen by business groups, is promised for 2020.