Protesters take to HK's streets again
THOUSANDS of pro-democracy protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong yesterday, for the first time since mass demonstrations shut down parts of the city for more than two months last year.
A sea of yellow umbrellas - the symbol of the campaign - moved slowly through central Hong Kong with crowds shouting for "true universal suffrage".
But numbers were well below expectations with 13,000 attending, said organisers - just over a quarter of the 50,000 they had hoped for.
Police said up to 8,800 people had joined the march, a fraction of the tens of thousands who gathered at the peak of the protests.
The authorities have made no concessions on activists' demands, and tensions remain high in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Police warned ahead of the rally that demonstrators were likely to once again try to occupy some of Hong Kong's main roads, which were cleared of tented camps last month.
But by late afternoon the march remained peaceful, with no sign that the crowds - including many people carrying yellow balloons - planned to take back the streets.
Despite the disappointing turnout, there was a sense of determination among demonstrators.
"We just want to express our frustration with the government in Hong Kong," said protester Ronnie Chan, who is in his 40s and works in sales and marketing. "We understand there is very little we can do, but if we don't speak out, nothing will change."
Officials in December cleared protest camps which had blocked several main roads. Rallies drew around 100,000 at their peak and saw intermittent violent clashes with the police.
China promised Hong Kongers the right for the first time to vote for their next chief executive in 2017. But it ruled that nominees must be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee, a proposal which has been heavily criticised by activists.
Political analyst Sonny Lo said the march "demonstrates to the citizens that the pro-democracy momentum is not dead".
But he also believes residents are exhausted from protests over political reform.
"At this moment, members of the public are tired of politics. The democrats have to strategise very carefully," said Professor Lo, head of the social sciences department at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.