Tens of thousands of protestors filled the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday, adamant there was nothing to cheer as the former British colony marked 15 years of Chinese rule and swore in a new leader.
The vast rally came after Leung Chun-ying, a millionaire property consultant seen as close to China’s communist rulers, took the chief executive’s oath in front of Chinese President Hu Jintao, who had his speech interrupted.
Hu's visit and Leung's inauguration have become focal points for growing discontent towards Beijing, which has surged to a new post-handover high amid soaring housing costs, limited democracy and perceived meddling by China.
“Hong Kong has become much worse off,” Eric Lai of the Civil Human Rights Front told the marchers. “Our rights are under serious threat.”
The crowd ranged from engineers and civil servants to maids and students, and represented groups from the Falun Gong spiritual movement to trade unions, as well as ordinary citizens young and old.
In sweltering heat it took them nearly three hours to file out of the park where they gathered, organisers said, and they blocked streets far across the city, stranding buses and trams as they surrounded them.
Mostly clad in the mourning colours of black and white, they carried placards calling for "One person one vote" and chanted "Power to the people", sometimes in more of a carnival atmosphere, complete with drums and songs.
The financial centre enjoys significant autonomy and civil liberties unheard of on the mainland under the "one country, two systems" model covering its return to China in 1997 after more than a century of British rule. But marcher Jacky Lim, 37, who carried Hong Kong's former colonial flag bearing the British union jack, said: "There is nothing worth celebrating today. Hong Kong is being gradually destroyed by the Communist Party.