Hong Kong handover: Protesters defy police to light flame of democracy

Just 30 minutes after China took over Hong Kong, the Democratic Party put on a boisterous demonstration at the Legislative Council building in the centre of town. They called for democracy and freedom, condemned the new China-appointed provisional legislature, and vowed to return to office through election next year.

An orderly crowd of about 6,000 people, including several hundred local and foreign journalists, gathered at Chater Gardens and outside the Legco Building, where the Democratic Party leader Martin Lee went on the balcony and gave a forthright "July 1 Declaration".

"We are proud to be Chinese, but we also want to ask why China cannot give us more freedom," Mr Lee said. "If there is no democracy, there will be no rule of law; if there is no freedom, human rights will not be respected.

"Hong Kong has been known as Pearl of the Orient. Where does its lustre come from? It comes from our freedom. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese have come to Hong Kong precisely for freedom. We want the freedom we are entitled to under the Joint Declaration."

Despite objections from the head of the provisional legislature which replaced the elected Legco when China took over sovereignty, the police kept a low-key presence and let the protesters proceed.

A series of pre-declaration activities were held yesterday evening, starting with passionate speeches by political commentators expressing their concern for democratic development in Hong Kong. There were readings, dramas and concerts.

Before the arrival of Mr Lee, veteran Democratic leader Szeto Wah delivered a "Handover Speech", reiterating the party's stance: "support sovereignty, defend democracy". He also expressed the belief that, with the support of the people, the party would be able to make a come-back next year through election.

Soon after midnight, "Flames of Democracy" were ignited by Mr Szeto and his colleagues, while an excited crowd sang patriotic songs. Later, the short-sleeved demonstrators chanted slogans such as "Long Live Democracy", unaffected by the heat, rain and thunder.

All speakers pointed out that the return of sovereignty to China not only marked the end of colonial rule, but also represented a step back against democratic development. Political commentator Ray Wong described the in-coming Chinese rulers as "authoritarian", saying that Hong Kong people were mature enough to elect their own legislature.

Another pro-democracy political party, the Frontier, put on a parade outside the Legco building. Led by journalist-turned-leader Emily Lau, several hundred protesters marched, holding candle lights and banners saying "Power to the people" and "Improve people 's livelihood, and chanting slogans such as "Down with [Premier] Li Peng" and "Down with [President] Jiang Zemin".

The Democratic Party, led by the lawyer Martin Lee, is the biggest and most popular political group in the former British colony, which won a dominant number of seats in the Legco election in 1995. But Peking refused to acknowledge the legality of the election, insisting that the political reforms introduced by the last Governor Chris Patten were against Sino- British agreements and Hong Kong's post-handover constitution. Last year, an interim body from which pro-democracy politicians were excluded, was set up.

The post-handover leader Tung Chee-hwa, who backs the provisional legislature, has said that the first Hong Kong Special Administrative Region legislature election will be held in May 1998. Despite reports that the rules might be changed to his party's disadvantage, Mr Lee vowed: "We shall return."

Despite the countless celebrations going on all over the city, the Chater Gardens and streets outside the Legco Building were packed with - mostly young - demonstrators. Local businessman Allan Chan said: "I think Hong Kong people should support the Democratic Party, because now that the British are gone, the Democrats will be the only people who can speak for us and defend our freedom. I think if the Democratic Party cannot survive under Chinese rule, then Hong Kong's future will not be promising."

Another office manager, Justin Tse, 23, said that he had voted for the Democrats in 1995 and would continue to do so in next year's election. But he did not think he would participate in future protest.

"I think after the People's Liberation Army soldiers are here, most Hong Kong people will not dare to demonstrate, for fear of being punished. At least I will not, " he said.

"This will be the last time I demonstrate with the Democrats. But I hope they will not shut up."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most