HONG KONG, July 1, 2010 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of people massed along Hong Kong's streets on Thursday for a pro-democracy rally on the 13th anniversary of the former British colony's return to China.
In a chaotic scene, protesters heckled lawmakers who voted in favour of controversial Beijing-backed political reforms as police kept them apart.
Organisers were expecting around 50,000 protesters to turn out for the annual July 1 march, down from 70,000 last year, underscoring fears that a deep split in the city's opposition camp would deter potential supporters.
The march has become a yearly opportunity for campaigners to show their opposition to Beijing and the local authorities.
But last week's passage of the political reforms that promise an incremental boost to democracy - but not one person, one vote - divided the opposition camp and turned many activists against the moderate Democratic Party.
Raymond Wong, of the radical League of Social Democrats (LSD), told reporters this week that his members would not encourage supporters to clash with the Democratic Party, but added, "we can't guarantee anything".
Hundreds of LSD supporters surrounded a Democratic Party roadside booth in the city's Wan Chai district, booing and shouting "shameless".
Other activists accused Democratic Party members at the march of "betraying Hong Kong people", giving its beleaguered lawmakers the thumbs down and blowing vuvuzela horns to punctuate their discontent.
Previously, the opposition were united in their goal to fight for universal suffrage for the city of seven million people in 2012 - and nothing less.
Thousands of banner-waving activists made their way through the city's searing summer heat, including domestic helpers calling for better wages and minorities demanding an end to racial discrimination,
"I am very dissatisfied about the democratic progress in Hong Kong in the last 13 years," protester Sheri Lai told AFP.
"We should not rely on political parties anymore. We should use our voice and sweat to fight for our rights."
Student Jessica Lee, 14, added: "I don't want my children to ask me why we still can't pick our own leaders in 10 or 15 years."
Radical opposition lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung - known for wearing Che Guevara T-shirts and throwing bananas at government officials during meetings - earlier Thursday led a 10-person march to a flag-raising ceremony attended by Chief Executive Donald Tsang, but their passage was blocked by about 60 police.
He later showed up at an anniversary reception and started chanting slogans before being removed by security, local radio RTHK reported, while Tsang also attended a 2,000-person anniversary parade organised by pro-government groups.
The city's US consulate described the reforms as a "significant step forward in Hong Kong's democratic development", while Tsang in a statement Thursday said they were "the best gift as we celebrate our reunification (with China)."
A record 500,000 people took part in the 2003 march, galvanised by an economic downturn and hostility towards the unpopular then chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, and his proposed national security bill.
The unexpected show of people power saw the security legislation shelved and was a key factor in Tung's resignation the following year.