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Thousands in Hong Kong march for democracy

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Protesters raise inflatable figures of Hong Kong's chief executive in a demand that China reverse its ruling any electoral reforms must be OK'd in advance by Beijing.

Protesters raise inflatable figures of Hong Kong’s chief executive in a demand that China reverse its ruling any electoral reforms must be OK’d in advance by Beijing.

Vincent Yu, Associated Press

HONG KONG — Thousands of demonstrators wearing black armbands marched through downtown streets here on Sunday afternoon to peacefully protest the Chinese government's decision last Tuesday to limit further moves by this territory toward democracy.

After a large but violent demonstration in Taipei, Taiwan, on Saturday over an election dispute there, the rally here was another reminder of the strong democratic sentiments now bubbling around China's periphery.

Vice President Dick Cheney, in Japan on Sunday, is scheduled to visit Beijing and Shanghai from Tuesday to Thursday. The State Department has been increasingly critical in recent weeks of China's efforts to restrict Hong Kong's democratic development.

Organizers estimated that "more than 15,000" people took part in Sunday's march here, while the police declined to provide a figure. The unexpectedly large turnout for an event only scheduled Tuesday night and held on a holiday weekend was the latest sign of the growing politicization of a city once known for its preoccupation with prosperity.

Many in the crowd were middle-aged, and said in interviews that they were unaccustomed to involvement in public protests. Some only became politically active last summer, when 500,000 people marched in a successful effort to force the government to withdraw plans for a stringent internal-security law. A few said Sunday's protest was their first.

"The central government is trying to put more controls on Hong Kong's people," said May Tam, 53, who said she was a homemaker who had never been to a demonstration before but was worried about the future of her three grown children as Beijing clamps down.

Tam and many others here want to introduce universal suffrage with the next elections for the chief executive in 2007 and for all seats in the Legislative Council in elections in 2008.

The Standing Committee of the Communist Party-controlled National People's Congress ruled in Beijing last Tuesday that Hong Kong's chief executive would have to obtain its approval before submitting any electoral reform bills to the legislature. The ruling was issued as an official interpretation, which has the force of law, of Hong Kong's Basic Law, the miniconstitution that this territory has followed since Britain handed it over to China in 1997.

The ruling angered many here because the Basic Law calls for an eventual move to universal suffrage and lays out a procedure for electoral changes.