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Hong Kong democracy activists rally ahead of reform vote

Thousands of people have rallied in Hong Kong ahead of a vote to decide how the region's next leader will be chosen. It follows mass demonstrations that shut the city down late last year.

Yellow umbrellas flooded Hong Kong's streets once again on Sunday, with around 3,500 citizens calling on lawmakers to vote against

Beijing-backed electoral reforms.

Organizers have pledged to hold a protest every day until the bill is voted on, however the turnout was far lower than the 50,000 people expected.

Avery Ng of the League of Social Democrats said the low turnout could be a sign of people's growing impatience with the political system. "We have had numerous protests in the past and some Hong Kongers may feel powerless," she said.

"We still don't have real democracy."

Demonstrators were calling for lawmakers to vote down controversial election reforms, due to be voted on by the end of the week. The proposed package would allow direct elections to be held for the first time in Hong Kong's history. But it would also mean chief executive candidates would be selected by a panel of Beijing-affiliated experts. Currently the leader of Hong Kong is chosen by a pro-Beijing committee of more than a thousand people.

Change on the horizon?

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Friday the proposal was "in line with Hong Kong's current circumstances, taking into account the interests of and appeals from different social groups and sectors in Hong Kong."

A number of pro-democracy politicians spoke at the event, vowing to vote against the package. Demonstrators held placards and chanted slogans such as "I want genuine democracy" and "veto fake universal suffrage" in the 30-degree heat. Officials had worried that Sunday's protests would echo those of 2014, when protesters occupied whole sections of the semi-autonomous Chinese city. The day before police had removed objects such as bricks and metal bars from demonstrators' tents outside the government complex.

In September of last year the financial hub ground to halt as a wave of

student-led protests took over the city,

accusing China of reneging on a promise to allow open, democratic elections for the region's next leader. Hong Kong's current chief executive Leung Chun-ying called on lawmakers to support the new bill. "If we lose the opportunity this year, we don't know when (the next chance for reform will be)," he said.

an/rc (AFP, AP)

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