HK pro-government activists rally against Occupy protest
Demonstrators carry the Chinese and Hong Kong flags as they take part in a pro-government rally in Hong Kong, on August 17, 2014 - by Alex Ogle
The rally in searing summer heat came around seven weeks after rival pro-democracy protesters staged a mass march demanding a greater say over how Hong Kong's next leader is chosen.
Public discontent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city is at its highest in years, with concern at perceived interference by Beijing and growing divisions over how the next chief executive should be chosen in 2017 under planned political reforms.
Pro-democracy campaigners from the Occupy Central group have pledged to mobilise thousands of protesters to block roads in the Central financial district later this year if authorities reject the public's right to nominate candidates for the post.
But the movement has been strongly criticised by Beijing and city officials as illegal, radical and potentially violent.
Organisers of Sunday's rally, the Alliance for Peace and Democracy, said the silent majority in the city of seven million did not support Occupy.
"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," alliance co-founder Robert Chow told AFP.
Paul Yip, a statistician at Hong Kong University, told AFP an estimated 57,000 attended Sunday's rally.
Police said 111,800 people left the starting point in Victoria Park while the organisers put the figure even higher at 193,000.
Last month's pro-democracy march, in comparison, drew between 122,000 and 172,000 people according to independent estimates, while organisers claimed more than half a million had poured onto the streets.
Many of the protesters who filled the park on Sunday wore red to show their allegiance to Beijing.
Some carried a banner reading "Long live the Chinese Communist Party", while others chanted "No violence".
"I am here to oppose Occupy, as simple as that. It is a bad thing for young people," a 70-year-old retired chef, who only gave his surname Wong, told AFP.
"I don't know how to give a view on democracy -- it's high-level politics," a 40-year-old construction worker surnamed Kwok told AFP as he waved a Chinse flag.
"I just know if there is no peace there is no prosperity."
But some participants seemed unsure why they were there.
An 18-year-old from Shenzhen, just across the border, said he had arrived in Hong Kong that morning and was "not very sure" why he was taking part, only attending because his friend asked him to.
- Protesters 'pressured to attend' -
There were accusations that some participants were pressured into attending by their employers, while others received food or other incentives and were mobilised by pro-Beijing groups in Hong Kong.
A Cable Television report said some people who were bussed to the rally received a "transportation fee" of HK$200 ($25.80).
Some groups held banners representing different mainland Chinese affiliations and state-run conglomerates.
"Today you see that it (the march) is very organised, so it is clearly a result of mobilisation. We just hope that the people joined based on their own decisions," Occupy Central co-founder Chan Kin-man told AFP.
Chow rejected such accusations, saying: "If people don't want to take part in these activities, they don't have to participate."
Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to China in 1997 under an agreement that guarantees civil liberties including the right to protest.
The city's leader is currently chosen by a pro-Beijing committee.
China says that all residents will be allowed to vote for the next chief executive in 2017 but that a nominating committee must choose the candidates.
Democracy advocates say this means Beijing will be able to ensure a sympathetic slate of candidates and exclude opponents.
An unofficial referendum organised by Occupy activists saw the majority of 800,000 people who voted supporting reform packages that would allow public nomination.
In a counter move, an Alliance petition campaign supported by pro-Beijing groups and officials has collected some 1.4 million signatures, according to the group.
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