Thousands have marched in Hong Kong to demand a greater say in how their future leaders will be chosen, expressing concern that China may limit long-awaited political reforms in the former British colony.
This rally will give the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) a clear message that if you don't give us real democracy, there will be direct action from the people.
Organisers said they expected more than 50,000 people to take part in the annual New Year's Day pro-democracy protest that started on Wednesday in Victoria Park, named after the British monarch who oversaw Hong Kong's seizure from China.
"Democracy will prevail" read some banners as protesters sang and shouted slogans against the city's government, less than one month after the start of an official public consultation on Hong Kong's future electoral system.
"Because we are Hong Kong citizens, we must vote," said Sharon Tang, a 49-year-old administrative worker at a trading company, adding that residents of the former British colony have the intelligence to choose their future leaders.
Marchers want the Hong Kong government and China's ruling Communist Party to know "that Hong Kong people need and want a real democracy", Johnson Yeung, convenor of rally organisers for the Civil Human Rights Front, told AFP news agency.
Protesters said real democracy includes the key condition that anyone, including candidates who criticise China, can run for office.
A 'battle' to be won
Residents of the semi-autonomous Hong Kong enjoy many freedoms unimaginable to those living in mainland China, despite China resuming sovereignty over the former British colony in 1997.
The city has its own government and legal system and Beijing had promised residents that they could vote for their next leader in 2017.
Under the current system, Hong Kong's leader is elected by a 1,200-strong pro-Beijing committee.
"The form of democracy Beijing wants is unacceptable. It's fake," said Tsang Fan-yu, a designer.
Many fear that China will control the choice of candidates to secure the election of a pro-Beijing leader.
Yeung said he saw this year, and the ongoing debate over the city's future democratic system, as a "battle" that must be won.
"This rally will give the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) a clear message that if you don't give us real democracy, there will be direct action from the people," he said.
Some activists have threatened to take over the streets of Hong Kong's business district later this year for a protest called "Occupy Central", to try and force officials to guarantee a fair electoral system.