PHOTOS: Thousands march for democracy on the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China

Hongkongers walk through Wan Chai during the annual democracy march, July 1, 2017. Photo: Jonathon Morton/Coconuts Media

On Saturday, Hong Kong marked the 20th anniversary of its return to China from Britain. And, as they have done since the Article 23 protest of 2003, thousands of citizens took to the streets in the afternoon to march for democracy, equal rights, and various other causes.

While the annual July 1 march has historically started at the sports pitches of Victoria Park, organizers were prevented from meeting there this year after the government granted use of the park pitches to a pro-Beijing group, who used the space to hold a science expo celebrating the handover.

A pro-democracy figure addresses the crowd at Victoria Park’s Central Lawn, July 1, 2017. Photo: Chad Williams/Coconuts Media

Protesters instead gathered at the park’s considerably smaller Central Lawn, where they stood under the blazing sun and occasional downpour (hey, this is Hong Kong after all) listening to speeches from pro-democracy figures.

Shortly after 3pm, the scheduled setting-off time, protesters gradually began leaving the park in groups, winding their way down Causeway Road as pro-China supporters jeered from cordoned-off areas opposite the Central Library and underneath Moreton Terrace Flyover.

A woman stands in front of the pro-China demonstrators under Moreton Terrace Flyover, Causeway Bay, July 1, 2017. Photo: Annette Chan/Coconuts Media

As expected, there was a heavy police presence dotted throughout the procession route.

Police stationed along the protest route in Causeway Bay, July 1, 2017. Photo: Chad Williams/Coconuts Media

Marchers carried signs and banners championing their causes; beyond the annual call for universal suffrage, posters and stickers demanding the unconditional release of Nobel laureate and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo also proved popular.

A marching band supporting Falun Dafa takes part in the annual democracy protest in Hong Kong, July 1, 2017. Photo: Annette Chan/Coconuts Media

While CY Leung was no longer chief executive by the time of the march, protesters showed that they wouldn’t forget his (alleged) indiscretions so quickly by chanting “jail CY Leung” and carrying posters which said, “investigate the UGL 50 million”, in reference to the claim that he was bribed during his time in office. Some simply lamented Hong Kong’s perceived demise in appropriately rain-sodden placards.

A young woman carries a placard reading “Fall of Hong Kong since 1997” in Causeway Bay, July 1, 2017. Photo: Jonathon Morton/Coconuts Media

Onlookers observed the march from bridges, side streets, and inside glassy malls.

Protesters march past Hysan Place during the annual democracy demonstration in Causeway Bay, July 1, 2017. Photo: Chad Williams/Coconuts Media

As the protesters made their way through Causeway Bay, prominent pro-democracy figures like veteran lawmakers and outspoken activists addressed the crowd from their party’s booths and called for donations.

League of Social Democrats leader Avery Ng addresses the crowd at the annual pro-democracy march, July 1, 2017. Photo: Annette Chan/Coconuts Media

One dedicated Kim Jong-un impersonator even donned a suit in the sweltering heat to protest the Communist party.

A Kim Jong-un impersonator participates in the annual democracy march in Hong Kong, July 1, 2017. Photo: Annette Chan/Coconuts Media

 

A protester signs a banner supporting Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo during the annual democracy march in Hong Kong, July 1, 2017. Photo: Annette Chan/Coconuts Media

As usual, some displays were more creative and tongue-in-cheek than others, with one particularly memorable group walking through the city in white elephant costumes to protest expensive “white elephant” projects. (And don’t even get us started on the CY punching bag and yellow umbrella-toting Xi cutout.)

Protesters walk through Hong Kong during the annual democracy march in a white elephant costume to protest the “white elephant” Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge project, July 1, 2017. Photo: Annette Chan/Coconuts Media

 

Members of People Power march with a big papier-mache wok (“big wok” in Cantonese is synonymous with “a terrible situation”) at the annual democracy march, July 1, 2017. Photo: Annette Chan/Coconuts Media

As the march went on, lawmakers cheered the protesters on with shouts of “add oil!”, a Cantonese slang term which roughly translates to “keep going” and “good luck”.

Veteran lawmaker Claudia Mo cheering protesters on at the annual Hong Kong democracy march, July 1, 2017. Photo: Annette Chan/Coconuts Media

Also supporting the march was a small but vocal representation of the Domestic Workers Union, who chanted, “We want genuine universal suffrage” in Cantonese, winning cheers from the protesters themselves.

Migrant workers cheer for suffrage during the annual democracy march in Hong Kong, July 1, 2017. Photo: Annette Chan/Coconuts Media

 

Members of Action Q, a LGBTIQ organization in Hong Kong, demonstrating at the annual democracy march on July 1, 2017. Photo: Jonathon Morton/Coconuts Media

 

Protesters, some carrying Taiwan flags, participate in Hong Kong’s annual democracy march, July 1, 2017. Photo: Jonathon Morton/Coconuts Media

Also represented was the small but vocal faction of independence supporters, who waved colonial flags and carried funereal signs reading “Hong Kong: 20 Years a Slave”.

A protester wears a Hong Kong Independence flag at the annual democracy march, July 1, 2017. Photo: Annette Chan/Coconuts Media

As the march went on towards Admiralty, the already sparser-than-usual crowd thinned out, having heard that a planned rally outside the government offices had been called off due to the intermittent downpours.

People Power banners in Admiralty as protesters reach the final stretch of the annual democracy march, July 1, 2017. Photo: Annette Chan/Coconuts Media

Later, police would say that the march had been attended by a record low turnout of 14,500 people. Organizers put the number at a more generous, but still historically low 66,000, citing police’s “hostility” towards the democracy movement and poor weather for the turnout.

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