Thousands march against Hong Kong's leader

Tue Jan 1, 2013 9:17am EST
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By Grace Li

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Tens of thousands in Hong Kong protested on Tuesday against the city's leader Leung Chun-ying as pressure mounts against the Beijing-backed politician who has been embroiled in an illegal construction scandal since taking office in July.

Thronging the streets on New Year's Day, crowds of people, some dressed in black with colorful banners and wearing long-nosed Pinocchio masks, chanted "Leung Chun-ying step down" in a rally that snaked several kilometers towards government headquarters.

While Hong Kong is a largely stable financial hub with a strong rule of law, the political heat has risen over Leung's failure to adequately explain seemingly innocuous building work on his home, corroding public trust and raising suspicions he may have covered up the scandal last year as he campaigned for the leadership.

"CY Leung does not have the ability and credibility to handle even his own personal scandals. How can he lead Hong Kong in a proper way with political and economic development?" said protest organizer Jackie Hung.

Leung said last month he had been negligent and apologized for how he handled questions over his illegally built basement. Such work is common to maximize living space in space-starved Hong Kong, but similar minor violations have ensnared several prominent officials over the past year.

By the evening, organizers put the turnout at the protest at around 130,000, though police said 17,000 had showed up.

The demonstration was largely peaceful, though police maintained a heavy presence after two journalists were roughed up by pro-government supporters at a rival rally on Sunday.

In a statement, Leung said the government would "humbly" listen to the public's views. Several thousand of Leung's supporters also staged a pro-government New Year rally.   Continued...

A protester gestures during a protest urging Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to step down, on a street in Hong Kong's shopping Causeway Bay district January 1, 2013. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu