Thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are calling for the city's scandal-ridden chief executive to step down and demanding that China allow them to elect their own leaders.
Police say about 17,000 protesters joined a New Year's Day march through the city, holding signs and chanting slogans demanding the Beijing-backed chief executive Leung Chun-ying step down.
Leung, who took office in July, has faced widespread criticism following revelations that he tried to cover up illegal construction at his luxury homes – a sensitive issue in the crowded city, where space is at a premium.
One of the protesters Tuesday, Hong Kong resident Calvin Tse, was among those calling for China to allow universal suffrage in the former British colony.
“Under the current mechanism, no matter how much we dislike the chief executive, we cannot make him step down. So, I am forced to come out to ask him to step down. We don't even have a vote, he is elected by a small group of people. We cannot use our voting right to express our view no matter what his performance is like.”
Citizens in Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, were not given the right to elect their leader until 2017. Leung was elected in March by a committee dominated by pro-China appointees.
Many residents were upset that Leung's victory came after he criticized his rival, Henry Tang, for building an illegal basement in his own multi-million dollar home. Leung has apologized, but protesters have insisted that he step down.
In a statement Tuesday, Leung said he would “humbly” listen to the public's views. Police said as many as 8,000 protesters joined a rally in support of the leader.
In December, Leung narrowly survived a no-confidence vote in the legislature, thanks to undemocratically appointed, pro-Beijing legislators swaying the outcome.
The scandal comes amid rising anger among Hong Kong residents that China is meddling in local affairs.