HONG KONG – A giant pro-democracy march in Hong Kong (search) will not convince China to reverse its decision ruling out the direct election of the territory's next leader, an official said Saturday.
Many in Hong Kong had held out hope that the peaceful pro-democracy rally Thursday would lead Beijing to change its mind and move more swiftly on political reforms. Organizers said 530,000 people turned out, while police put the figure at 200,000.
But the mainland official, Li Gang, said China's top legislative panel had made its position clear when it said in April that the territory's people cannot democratically choose the successor to Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa in 2007 or all lawmakers in 2008.
"The National People's Congress (search) had made a final decision," said Li, deputy head of Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong. "As the top judicial authority, its decisions cannot be changed, so to try to attempt something that's impossible is irrational."
One of the organizers of Thursday's march, Roman Catholic activist Jackie Hung, criticized Li's comments and called on China to pay attention to what Hong Kong people are saying.
"We can't just accept whatever framework China sets for us," Hung said. "The Chinese government has a responsibility to listen to Hong Kong people's views."
"To attempt the impossible is the greatest kind of moral courage," Hung said.
Former British colony Hong Kong has enjoyed Western-style civil liberties since its handover to Chinese rule in 1997, but only limited democracy. One non-governmental organization, the Asian Human Rights Commission, has warned of trouble ahead.
"By withholding democracy from the people of Hong Kong, the Chinese and Hong Kong governments are only sowing the seeds of instability and its negative economic consequences by spawning anger and frustration," the Hong Kong-based commission said this week.
Tung was picked by an 800-member committee loyal to Beijing (search). Voters will choose 30 of 60 lawmakers in September elections, with the remaining seats to be filled by special interest groups such as business executives, doctors and bankers.
Beijing and the Hong Kong government are worried that the pro-democracy sentiment sweeping through the territory will be bad news for Tung's legislative allies. They fear they could end up with a Legislative Council that won't back Tung.
The pro-democracy march came on the anniversary of a rally by 500,000 people who were angered by Tung's plans last year to pass an anti-subversion bill that many viewed as a threat to freedoms. Stunned by the turnout, Tung withdrew the measure, and locals then began pushing harder for full democracy.
Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, sets out universal suffrage as an eventual goal, but there is no timetable specified.
In an effort at conciliation, Tung plans to meet soon with pro-democracy lawmakers.
Opposition legislator Emily Lau told The Associated Press on Saturday that the pro-democracy camp will ask Tung to lobby China for quicker political reforms.
Following Thursday's march, Tung said he understood people's aspirations, but insisted any reforms must be "gradual and orderly" and go along with China's ruling.
Lau charged that Tung has not given an adequate response to the people's will.
"He has let our citizens down," she said.
Another pro-democracy legislator, James To, expressed doubts about whether Tung has much clout with Beijing.
"Tung carries very little weight on this matter," To said. "He's pretty much a puppet."