Hong Kong: Protest increases the pressure on Leung


Tens of thousands of people joined a protest against the city's leader, Leung Chun-ying, today as pressure mounts against the Beijing-backed politician who has been embroiled in an illegal construction scandal since taking office in July.

The vast crowds, some dressed in black and waving colourful banners and wearing long-nosed Pinocchio masks, chanted "Leung Chun-ying step down" in a rally that snaked several kilometres towards government headquarters.

While Hong Kong is a largely stable financial hub with a strong rule of law, the political heat has risen over Mr Leung's failure to adequately explain seemingly innocuous building work on his home, corroding public trust and raising suspicions he may have covered up the scandal last year as he campaigned for the leadership.

Mr Leung said last month he had been negligent and apologised for how he handled questions over his illegally built basement. Such work is common to maximise living area in space-starved Hong Kong, but similar minor violations have ensnared several prominent officials over the past year. By the evening, organisers put the turnout at the protest at about 130,000, though police claimed that only 17,000 had showed up.

The demonstration was largely peaceful, though police maintained a heavy presence after two journalists were beaten up by pro-government supporters at a rival rally on Sunday. In a statement, Mr Leung said the government would "humbly" listen to the public's views. Thousands of Mr Leung's supporters also staged a pro-government new year rally.

China's senior leaders including premier Wen Jiabao have warned of Hong Kong's "deep rooted conflicts" in the past, though Beijing has so far publicly endorsed Mr Leung's administration when he made a duty visit in December.

In a stormy half year since taking office, Mr Leung has also had to contend with a raft of policy challenges including an unpopular pro-Beijing education curriculum that was later shelved, high housing prices, and a massive influx of mainland Chinese visitors.