Tens of thousands of protesters have marched on Hong Kong streets, demanding greater democracy and the resignation of the city’s embattled leader.
Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Hong Kong, said Leung Chun-ying had been embroiled in scandal ever since he became chief executive six months ago.
Our correspondent said some of the problems “stemmed from changes to his luxury home which were techinically against the law”.
Leung has acknowledged and apologised for the structures, which were built without planning permission and include a wooden trellis and a glass enclosure.
But our correspondent said many have not been convinced by his explanations and apology.
“He subsequently explained those things to legislators here and also to the public. Many people believe he has been economical with the truth. Some people – legislators – have accused him of downright lying. He has a credibility problem. Thousands of people here just don’t believe him,” said our correspondent.
Organisers have said they expected 50,000 people to join the New Year’s Day march against Leung, while pro-government groups staged separate and smaller rallies in support of the Beijing-backed chief executive.
“We have to keep voicing our concerns even though the situation is getting worse,” 27-year-old university student Billy Li said as the demonstrators set off from a park to march to the government’s harbourfront headquarters.
Holding up posters of Leung portrayed as a vampire and a wolf, the protesters – some waving flags from the British colonial era – chanted “Give us universal suffrage immediately” and “Step down, Leung Chun-ying”.
Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, ending more than 150 years of British administraion.
Although part of mainland China with semi-autonomous status, the city’s 7.1 million residents choose their chief executive under a system called “small-circle” election that excludes many would-be voters.
Hong Kong also maintains guarantees of civil liberties such as the right to protest, which is barely tolerated on the mainland.
Leung was elected in March by a 1,200-strong election committee packed by a pro-Beijing elite, amid rising anger among residents over what many perceive to be China meddling in local affairs.
Beijing has said the city’s chief executive could be directly elected in 2017 at the earliest, with the legislature following by 2020.
“We want to push for Leung’s resignation to further push for democratic elections in Hong Kong,” Jackie Hung, a spokeswoman for protest organiser Civil Human Rights Front, told the AFP news agency.
“Because we don’t have a democratic government, most of the policies introduced by this government do not directly reflect the interests of the people,” she said.