Huge protest fills HK streets
HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong Tuesday in a landmark demonstration to voice their anger against a controversial proposed national security law.
The peaceful rally was the biggest in Hong Kong since its return to Chinese rule in 1997 and overshadowed official celebrations marking the sixth anniversary of the handover from British sovereignty.
"Power to the people!" and "Down with Tung!" were the chants as a massive crowd filled Hong Kong's streets during a 6 1/2 hour march against the anti-subversion bill as well as the leadership of Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.
Organizers were delighted with the turnout and said over 500,000 Hong Kongers turned out Tuesday, most wearing black and battling oppressive heat, to rally to the cause. Organizers had anticipated 100,000 demonstrators.
The swathe of protesters brought the center of Hong Kong to a halt, closing roads and overloading the underground transit network on a sweltering afternoon.
Police estimate around 350,000 were on the streets at the height of the demonstration, which began at 3:00 p.m. (0700 GMT) at the city's Victoria Park before a mammoth march to rally outside Hong Kong government headquarters.
Hong Kong -- often regarded as a territory of workaholics more concerned with economics than politics -- had not seen a protest on the scale of Tuesday's rally since 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
Despite the massive turnout, protest organizers say Tuesday's demonstration was just the tip of the iceberg should the government fail to scrap the proposed law.
"If they are not listening this time, the next demonstration will be more hostile, the anger has been demonstrated. There may be riots in the future," opposition legislator Albert Chan told CNN.
Many of the marchers came from Hong Kong's normally apolitical middle class -- teachers, lawyers, bankers, business executives -- spurred into action by fear the new law will give the government similar powers to suppress dissent that exist in mainland China.
Protesters are angry and worried about a new security bill which carries maximum life prison sentences for treason, sedition, theft of state secrets and subversion.
Hong Kong's government say the territory's legislature is required to pass the bill under Article 23 of the territory's post-colonial constitution, known as the Basic Law.
The government maintains the proposed law is necessary to protect the territory's security but critics say it could erode fundamental rights and freedoms as well as restrict access to information.
Tung, who laid low in his government office during the protest, said he was concerned over the large number of demonstrators taking to the streets Tuesday but made clear his government intends to enact the new law.
He repeated assurances the government would "continue to take active steps to maintain and safeguard rights and freedoms."
Rights groups and democracy advocates say the law -- set to be passed July 9 -- will curtail autonomy guarantees for Hong Kong from China under Beijing's "one country, two systems" model of governing the territory.
Despite Tuesday's massive protest, analysts say it is unlikely to bear any significant outcome on the future of the law.
The bill is expected to be passed by the territory's legislature, which is packed with pro-Beijing and pro-government supporters and is largely un-elected.
The law will give Tung's government the authority to ban local groups with ties to any organization banned by the communist authorities in mainland China.
It will also give police the power to conduct searches without a warrant and impose a ban on disclosing state secrets.
Beijing has defending the proposed law as being in line with the Hong Kong's democratically based legislation.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, in Hong Kong for the handover celebrations but who left the territory before the start of Tuesday's protests, said Beijing would continue to honor its commitment to the so-called "one country, two systems" policy it has used to govern the territory since 1997.