HONG KONG (AP) — Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents marched Tuesday through the streets of the former British colony to push for greater democracy in a rally fueled by anger over Beijing's recent warning that it holds the ultimate authority over the southern Chinese financial center.
Organizers expect the crowd to swell to at least 150,000 to press for reforms allowing residents to elect their leader.
The protest comes days after nearly 800,000 residents voted in a mock referendum aimed at bolstering support for full democracy.
The peaceful crowds carried banners and posters calling for democracy as they marched through the center of the city.
Ahead of the rally, a small group of protesters burned a copy of a policy document, or "white paper," released by China's Cabinet earlier this month that enraged many residents. It said that Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy is not inherent but is authorized by the central government.
"After China's State Council issued the white paper, the Basic Law became a figurehead," said activist Derek Chan, referring to the mini-constitution that guarantees that Hong Kong can maintain a high degree of control over its own affairs under the principle of "one country, two systems."
Chan and other protesters carried a mock coffin and banner reading "RIP Hong Kong" outside a flag-raising ceremony attended by officials to mark the anniversary of the handover of power from London to Beijing on July 1, 1997.
China's Communist leaders have pledged to start allowing Hong Kongers to vote for the city's leader in 2017, though they insist that candidates be vetted by a Beijing-friendly committee like the one that has hand-picked all leaders since the handover.
But pro-democracy activists, encouraged by the strong turnout for their informal referendum, vow to shut down the city's financial district if the government fails to come up with electoral reforms that meet international standards.
The fallout over the policy document has added to the widening rift between with the mainland. Hong Kongers' mistrust of the central government in Beijing and its policies toward the city has spiked to record highs, according to opinion surveys released Monday by two universities.