The rally in searing summer heat came around seven weeks after rival pro-democracy protesters staged a mass march demanding a greater say over how Hong Kong’s next leader is chosen.
Public discontent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city is at its highest for years, with concern at perceived interference by Beijing and growing divisions over how the next chief executive should be chosen in 2017 under planned political reforms.
Pro-democracy campaigners from the Occupy Central group have pledged to mobilize thousands of protesters to block roads in the Central financial district later this year if authorities reject the public’s right to nominate candidates for the post.
|People take part in a pro-government rally in Hong Kong on Sunday. (AFP-Yonhap)|
But the movement has been strongly criticized by Beijing and city officials as illegal, radical and potentially violent.
Organizers of Sunday’s rally, the Alliance for Peace and Democracy, said the silent majority in the city of seven million did not support Occupy.
“We want to let the world know that we want peace, we want democracy, but please do not threaten us ― do not try to turn this place into a place of violence,” alliance co-founder Robert Chow told AFP.
Paul Yip, a statistician at Hong Kong University, told AFP an estimated 57,000 attended Sunday’s rally.
Police said 111,800 people left the starting point in Victoria Park while the organisers put the figure even higher at 193,000.
Last month’s pro-democracy march, in comparison, drew between 122,000 and 172,000 people according to independent estimates, while organizers claimed more than half a million had poured onto the streets.
Many of the protesters who filled the park on Sunday wore red to show their allegiance to Beijing.
Some carried a banner reading “Long live the Chinese Communist Party,” while others chanted “No violence.”
“I am here to oppose Occupy, as simple as that. It is a bad thing for young people,” a 70-year-old retired chef, who only gave his surname Wong, told AFP.
“I don’t know how to give a view on democracy ― it’s high-level politics,” a 40-year-old construction worker surnamed Kwok told AFP as he waved a Chinse flag.
“I just know if there is no peace there is no prosperity.”