Hong Kong streets were turned into rivers of umbrellas yesterday as hundreds of thousands of people marched through heavy rain down a major road in the Chinese territory, where massive pro-democracy demonstrations have become a regular weekend activity.
Organisers said at least 1.7 million participated, though the police estimate was far lower.
The assembly was peaceful, with no reports of violence, making for a rare calm weekend in a protest movement that has been marked by violent clashes with police.
Law enforcement officers kept a low profile, with no riot police seen from the procession's main routes. When stragglers convened outside a government complex in the late evening, other protesters urged them to go home.
Demonstrators who were shining laser pointers at a government building were convinced to leave, prompting applause from others in the group.
"We hope to see whether the government gives a response to this peaceful protest," said Michael Leung, a 24-year-old who was ushering his fellow demonstrators away. "If we get a negative response, we cannot control the next (gathering)."
Organiser Bonnie Leung of the Civil Human Rights Front said earlier in the day that she hoped there would be no "chaotic situations."
"We hope we can show the world that Hong Kong people can be totally peaceful," she said.
The Civil Human Rights Front had organised three previous massive marches in Hong Kong since June. The movement, however, has been increasingly marked by clashes with police as demonstrators vent their frustrations over what they perceive to be the government's blatant refusal to respond to their demands.
"Peace is the No. 1 priority today," said Kiki Ma, a 28-year-old accountant who participated in the march. "We want to show that we aren't like the government."
While police granted approval for the rally, they didn't approve an accompanying march. Demonstrators nevertheless fanned out and filled the streets, as there was not enough space at the designated assembly area.
Public transit trains did not stop at stations near the assembly because of overcrowding.
Jimmy Shan of the Civil Human Rights Front said the group estimated that at least 1.7 million took part in the rally. He said the figure did not include those who were not able to make it to Victoria Park — where the march began — due to traffic constraints.
Police, whose crowd figures are generally lower than the organisers' estimates, said the turnout at the assigned location and during the designated time period was 128,000. Many protesters, however, did not follow the pre-approved guidelines laid out by the authorities.