Hong Kong church leaders have rejected China's decision to introduce universal suffrage in the nation's special region by 2017, and have led thousands of marchers demanding votes for all by 2012, something that Beijing recently ruled out - writes Francis Wong.
Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen and Methodist Pastor Ralph Lee Ting-sun, who is the honorary general secretary of the Hong Kong Christian Council, led the protestors through the city. Organizers said more than 22,000 turned out on to the streets; police put the number at around 6,000.
Marchers chanted into loud hailers, "We want universal suffrage in 2012. Return our right for universal suffrage."
Before the event, more than 300 Christians held a prayer meeting at Victoria Park, where the march began.
Pastor Lee told the prayer meeting that he was now aged 66, and he wondered if he had any chance of witnessing the implementation of universal suffrage, or one person one vote, during his lifetime. He reminded the crowd that Hong Kong people had struggled for universal suffrage for many years, and he hoped people could enjoy such a basic right very soon.
At the prayer meeting, Cardinal Zen described as "brutal" the decision by China's National People's Congress not to allow the introduction of universal suffrage by 2012. He said that the church would continue to struggle for basic human rights as guaranteed in a number of international treaties and in the Basic Law, the mini-constitution of Hong Kong.
The Catholic prelate recalled that in 2004 the NPC had ruled out universal suffrage for the 2007 election of the territory's chief executive, and for the 2008 election of legislative councillors. Zen complained that as a result of their latest decisions, China's legislators were continuing to ignore the political will of Hong Kong's people.
The standing committee of China's NPC decided on 29 December 2007 that the 2012 elections for Hong Kong's chief executive and for legislative councillors would not be held on the basis of universal suffrage. Instead, the country's top legislative body decided that universal suffrage would only be introduced for the election of Hong Kong's chief executive officer from 2017.
Before the march, the current CEO of Hong Kong, Donald Tsang, was quoted on a local radio station as saying, "Now that a timetable has been set, I hope everyone will be able to focus on what is possible rather than what is not."
According to a recent survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong, even after the NPC's 2017 decision, most people still want universal suffrage by 2012.
Tsang urged the public to accept Beijing's decision for delayed democracy, and described it as an "historic opportunity".
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]