Hong Kong: Thousands gather in pro-government rally

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Media captionThe BBC's Juliana Liu: "Large-scale rallies supportive of the government in Beijing are extremely rare"

A major pro-government rally in Hong Kong is drawing in thousands of supporters, in response to civil disobedience campaigns by activists.

Pro-democracy activists have staged huge protests, the most recent on the 1 July anniversary of the day Hong Kong was handed back to China from Britain.

They have threatened to occupy parts of the city if their demands are not met.

Public discontent in Hong Kong is at its highest for years with concern over Beijing's influence over elections.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Pro-China protesters last gathered on 13 July, also in response to recent Occupy Central rallies.

The city's police estimated Sunday's turnout at more than 110,000 people, but a specialist polling group based at the University of Hong Kong put the figure at around 80,000.

"We want to let the world know that we want peace, we want democracy, but please, do not threaten us, do not try to turn this place into a place of violence," Robert Chow, co-founder of the pro-government Alliance for Peace and Democracy told AFP.

Juliana Liu, BBC News, Hong Kong

Political rallies are a common sight in Hong Kong, a special Chinese city with a high level of freedom.

But large-scale demonstrations supportive of the Chinese government in Beijing are extremely rare.

The demonstrators -- much older than their pro-democracy rivals and clearly mobilised by dozens of pro-China clan organisations -- carried signs opposing the civil disobedience movement called Occupy Central.

Questions have been raised about the legitimacy of the demonstration.

Hong Kong media reports have suggested some companies and business groups had asked their employees to take part.

Despite those controversies, Johnson Yeung, a pro-democracy activist who organised the recent 1 July protest, told BBC News the rally was indeed an historic event.

"For the first time since the handover in 1997, the central government has organised a mass rally of this scale. It really shows their commitment against Occupy Central."

The large turnout is a reminder there is still no consensus in the battle for Hong Kong's political future.

In the other camp, pro-democracy activists from the "Occupy Central" group have said they would mobilise protesters to take over some of the busier areas of the central business district if electoral reform is not put in place.

City authorities say such an occupation would be illegal however, and argue that it could tarnish Hong Kong's reputation.

Hong Kong's next elections will take place in 2017, and China says it will introduce universal suffrage for the vote.

Image copyright AP
Image caption A huge march on 2 July was organised by pro-democracy activists campaigning for elections independent of Beijing.

However the current Chief Executive of Hong Kong CY Leung was elected by a committee largely loyal to the Chinese government.

The pro-democracy protesters fear that the shortlist of candidates to replace him will be a similar group also loyal to Beijing.

The chief executive is currently elected by a 1,200-member election committee. A majority of the representatives are viewed as pro-Beijing.

The Chinese government has promised direct elections for the leader, known as the chief executive, by 2017.

However, voters will only have a choice from a list of candidates selected by a nominating committee, and Beijing has said all candidates must be "patriotic".

Activists fear China will use the committee to screen out candidates it disapproves of.

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