Hong Kong: Tens of thousands of protesters, some waving British colonial-era flags, marched in Hong Kong to denounce the city’s leaders and demand universal suffrage on the 16th anniversary of the territory’s handover to China.

Tropical Storm Rumbia brought rain and strong winds as demonstrators bearing banners saying “Democracy now” and “Down with the Chinese Communist Party” started off from the city’s Victoria Park to march to the financial district of Central. The annual rally for democracy comes amid concerns in the southern Chinese city that Beijing is increasingly meddling in local affairs.

A widening income gap and soaring property prices have also contributed to the turnout as protesters focused their anger on unpopular Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. “The main goal of the rally is to push through for genuine democracy and to ask for Leung Chun-ying to step down,” Jackie Hung, of the Civil Human Rights Front, which is organising the march, told AFP.

The July 1 rally comes after a survey published by the Hong Kong University found that only 33 percent of Hong Kongers took pride in being a Chinese national, the lowest level since 1998. Leung was appointed by a pro-Beijing committee last July, promising to improve governance and uphold the rule of law in the territory of seven million people.

He is charged with overseeing the transition to universal suffrage to appoint the city’s leader, which was promised by 2017, though critics say little or no progress has been made on the issue as the deadline draws nearer. ‘A major task of the current-term government is the implementation of universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2017 in accordance with the provisions of the Basic Law,’ Leung said Monday.

‘With the greatest sincerity and commitment, the SAR government will launch a consultation at an appropriate juncture,’ he added.’People don’t want elections with Chinese characteristics. The government should start consultation now so Hong Kong can have genuine democracy,’ protester Yeung Yuk, a 28-year-old social worker, told AFP.

According to a poll conducted by the Hong Kong University released last week, Leung’s approval rating stands at 46.2 percent. Early Monday, China’s national anthem blared as the Chinese and Hong Kong flags were raised outside the harbourside Convention Centre in a ceremony to mark the 16th anniversary of its handover to China.

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