Pro-democracy protesters to return to Hong Kong's streets in march through central city

 Protesters in Hong Kong's financial central district on Oct 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
 Protesters in Hong Kong's financial central district on Oct 28, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (AFP) - Thousands of pro-democracy protesters will rally on Hong Kong's streets on Sunday for the first time since mass demonstrations shut down parts of the city for more than two months.

The afternoon march through central Hong Kong is expected to draw 50,000 people, with the police warning that attempts to reoccupy key roads cleared of a sea of tented protest camps in December "are likely". However, no protest group has announced it intends to relaunch the occupation.

It is set to gauge the public's appetite for the continued fight for free leadership elections, with the authorities having made no concessions to activists' demands and tensions still high in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. "The rally continues to call out to people to join the democracy movement," organiser Daisy Chan told AFP.

Ms Chan said the rally would show that the Occupy movement, as the protests were known, was a political awakening for Hong Kong people. "In the past years, these citizens were less political than they are right now. The Occupy movement woke people up."

"This march demonstrates to the citizens that the pro-democracy momentum is not dead and that it will continue," political analyst Sonny Lo told AFP.

But Mr Lo also believes residents are exhausted from protests over political reform, pressuring pro-democracy activists to be more restrained going forward.

"At this moment the members of the public are tired of politics. The democrats have to strategise very carefully," Mr Lo, head of the social sciences department at the Hong Kong Institute of Education said, adding that most Hong Kong people were "politically pragmatic".

The police have requested march organisers to provide 100 marshals, which the group feels is "unreasonable", saying the police should be responsible for maintaining law and order.

Around 2,000 police will be deployed, according to the local media.

Ms Chan said they were not planning to re-occupy the streets on Sunday, but the police are nervous.

"It is believed that those supporting the illegal occupation are likely to seize the opportunity to reoccupy roads which have been now re-opened to traffic," a statement said ahead of the march.

The original founders of the Occupy movement, including Benny Tai, along with teenage activist Joshua Wong and other student leaders, will attend the rally.

Hong Kong's government is urging the public to support the Beijing-approved plan.

Mr Lam Woon Kwong, convenor of the Executive Council – the Hong Kong government’s top policy committee – warned campaigners to accept Beijing’s framework.“You can’t threaten the central authorities,” he told a radio programme on Sunday.“If we can have consensus to have universal suffrage in 2017 first and democratise further later, it would be a more pragmatic approach,” he said.

The proposed electoral reform package needs the approval of two-thirds of the city's legislature in order to be passed. A vote is expected to take place in the summer.

Officials in December cleared the final protest camps which brought roads to a standstill with rallies that drew around 100,000 at their peak and saw violent clashes with police.

The demonstrations started in late September and lasted for more than two months, after years of disagreements over how the city's leader should be chosen in the future.

Protests in Hong Kong predate Occupy, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets to protest over issues including an unpopular security bill or at the annual commemorations marking China's Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Last July, more than half a million people demonstrated a month before Beijing ruled on the city's political reform.

The Chinese authorities have promised Hong Kong people the right to vote for the chief executive in 2017, but ruled that nominees for the top spot will have to be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee, a proposal which has been heavily criticised by activists.