HONG KONG - Thousands marched in Hong Kong Wednesday to demand a greater say in how their future leaders will be chosen, expressing fears that China will limit long-awaited political reforms.
"Democracy will prevail" read some banners as protesters sang and shouted slogans against the city's government, less than one month after the start of an official public consultation on Hong Kong's future electoral system.
"Because we are Hong Kong citizens, we must vote," said Sharon Tang, a 49-year-old administrative worker at a trading company, adding that residents of the former British colony have the intelligence to choose their future leaders.
Other protesters carried banners reading "Change does not come if not fought for", and huge posters depicting the city's current chief executive Leung Chun-ying with an egg plastered on his head.
The marchers left Victoria Park -- still named after the 19th century British monarch who oversaw Hong Kong's seizure from China -- in mid-afternoon and were to stage a rally in the Central financial district afterwards.
Organisers have said more than 50,000 people are expected to take part in the annual New Year's Day pro-democracy protest. There were no immediate police estimates of crowd size.
Marchers aim to let the Hong Kong government and China's ruling Communist Party know "that Hong Kong people need and want a real democracy", Johnson Yeung, convenor of rally organisers the Civil Human Rights Front, told AFP.
Hong Kong residents enjoy rights and freedoms unknown on the mainland despite China's resumption of sovereignty in 1997.
It has its own government and legal system under a semi-autonomous status, and Beijing has promised that its people will be able to vote for their next chief executive in 2017.