Hong Kong campaigners announce major democracy rally

Paper yellow mini umbrellas sit in a box as they are given away by protesters outside the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong, China, on Jan 7, 2014. -- PHOTO: EPA
Paper yellow mini umbrellas sit in a box as they are given away by protesters outside the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong, China, on Jan 7, 2014. -- PHOTO: EPA

HONG KONG (AFP) - A pro-democracy group on Monday announced plans for the first major street rally in Hong Kong since more than two months of mass protests ended, with organisers expecting 50,000 to turn out.

Tension remains high in the former British colony after rallies for free leadership elections blocked some of the city's major thoroughfares, ending in December when protest camps were cleared.

The Civil Human Rights Front - an alliance of groups from political parties to student protesters - said Monday that it would organise a march on February 1 through the city centre. The group coordinates regular mass protest marches in Hong Kong, usually held on January 1 and July 1, which have seen estimated crowds of up to half a million.

"Although police have cleared all occupied areas, the road to real universal suffrage in Hong Kong through civil disobedience hasn't come to the end," said Daisy Chan, convenor of the group.

Chan was joined by pro-democracy lawmakers and other protesters to announce the rally to reporters at the city's de facto parliament.

The demonstration will end before midnight and Chan said she could not predict whether protesters would re-occupy the streets afterwards but would "respect" their decision to do so.

Beijing will allow residents to vote for their own leader for the first time in 2017, but insists all candidates are to be vetted by a committee which campaigners say will be dominated by pro-Beijing stooges.

Lawmaker Lee Cheuk Yan, of the pro-democracy Labour Party, said: "We hope to see the rally as the start of another round of major disobedience."

A 14-year-old campaigner who had faced a police application to take him away from his parents after he was arrested at the clearance of one of the main protest camps, was also at the meeting and vowed to join the rally "without fear" as part of protest group Students Awaken.

The application for the care and protection order - which sparked a backlash over the treatment of minors involved in the protests - was withdrawn by police after one preliminary hearing.

"The more you suppress us the more we will rebound," he said.

A police spokeswoman confirmed they had been notified of the rally and would handle it within "existing mechanisms". Chan said the protest march had not yet been officially approved by police.

The regular January 1 protest march did not take place this year as organisers wanted to wait for the launch of a second round of public consultation on political reforms - that started last week and was roundly criticised by campaigners for failing to offer meaningful concessions.