HONG KONG — Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents took to the streets in protest Monday, demanding their widely disliked Beijing-backed leader resign and pressing for promised democratic reforms so they can choose their own top representative.
The annual protest march has become increasingly popular, underscoring the growing gulf between Hong Kong and the mainland 16 years after the city ceased to be a British colony and came back under Beijing’s control.
This year the protesters unleashed their anger at the performance of Leung Chun-ying, who has been beset by one controversy after another since he took office a year ago. Leung was not elected but instead picked by a committee of mostly pro-Beijing and pro-business elites.
Organizers said 430,000 turned out, while police said 66,000 took part at the event’s peak. Hong Kong University researchers put the number at 88,000-98,000. In 2003, half a million people took to the streets to rally against a proposed anti-subversion law, which shocked Beijing and played a big role in the eventual resignation of the city’s then-leader, Tung Chee-hwa.
Beijing has pledged to let Hong Kong residents pick their leader, known as the chief executive, no earlier than 2017 and the entire Legislature by 2020. But residents of the city, a special administrative region of China, are frustrated that there have been few signs of progress on drawing up an outline and some fear that it may never happen.
‘‘Hong Kong people have been waiting too long for universal suffrage and for building a democratic city,’’ said Andrew Shum of Civil Human Rights Front, the group that organized the event. ‘‘Many people feel very angry.’’
Speaking at a ceremony marking Hong Kong’s return to China, Leung said that the ‘‘government will launch a consultation at an appropriate juncture’’ on introducing full democracy. He later told reporters the government will listen ‘‘carefully’’ to protesters’ demands.
Leung’s popularity slumped to near an all-time low in mid-June, according to Hong Kong University pollsters.
Soon after taking office, Leung, a self-made millionaire, was hit by a scandal involving illegal additions to his mansion.