Thousands protest ‘Occupy’ movement in Hong Kong

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1.4 million reportedly sign petition against the pro-democracy movement

Tens of thousands of people marched under a blistering sun in Hong Kong on Sunday to express their opposition to a pro-democracy movement that has threatened to bring Asia’s biggest financial centre to a standstill if the government does not open up the nomination process for electing the city’s top leader.

Protesters streamed into Victoria Park before a planned march, and in contrast with a rally held July 1 by pro-democracy organisers, many of the participants in Sunday’s rally were born in mainland China. Most were organised into groups corresponding to Chinese hometowns, schools or, in some cases, employers, easily identifiable with their matching T-shirts and hats.

In speech too, they often employed the political lexicon of China’s ruling Communist Party. Typical was Kitty Lai, an investment adviser wearing an orange T-shirt and a baseball cap emblazoned with the logo of the Hong Kong Federation of Fujian Associations, a group that represents people who hail from the coastal province across from Taiwan. She said shutting down the central business district would cause chaos.

“We want everything to be stable,” Lai said, in Mandarin Chinese. “We want everybody to live harmoniously.”

The protesters Sunday wanted to show their opposition to Occupy Central with Love and Peace, an umbrella organisation encompassing a wide swath of Hong Kong society, including students, Christian religious leaders and some bankers.

Occupy Central leaders have vowed to bring Central to a standstill with a sit-in protest should the national legislature and the city government insist on a plan for nominating the chief executive that bars candidates unacceptable to Beijing. That could be set in motion at the end of this month, when the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing is to issue guidelines to the Hong Kong government on how it can write new election rules.

Alliance for Peace and Democracy, which organised Sunday’s event, claims it has gathered 1.4 million signatures in its petition drive against Occupy Central. Occupy Central gathered about 800,000 signatures in a referendum it held in June that was overseen by a university polling group. Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying signed the petition, as did a former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.

Under the laws that have governed Hong Kong since its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 from Britain, the territory is to move to a system of universal suffrage for picking the chief executive, set for the 2017 election. But any plan must pass the city’s legislature with a supermajority. Pro-democracy leaders have enough seats in the 70-member Legislative Council to scuttle any proposal should it fail to meet their demands, assuming they stay united.

Top Chinese officials overseeing Hong Kong are set to meet with the territory’s legislators in mainland city Shenzhen on Thursday in the prelude to the vote by China’s NPC.