The No 3 strong wind signal failed to extinguish the flames of democracy burning in the hearts of tens of thousands of people who took to the streets yesterday calling for genuine universal suffrage and for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to step down.
By many counts, the turnout was bigger than last year. Organizer the Civil Human Rights Front put it at 430,000, or 30,000 more than last year.
Even the figures from police (66,000) and the Public Opinion Programme of the University of Hong Kong (88,000-98,000) varied from their respective estimates of 60,000 and 98,000-112,000 last year.
The showing was despite a concerted effort by establishment groups to host rival events such as carnivals, a pop concert and special shopping discounts, all timed to clash with the march.
Democratic Party founder Martin Lee Chu-ming said the turnout illustrated clearly that people will not quit the fight for democracy. He was walking alongside Next media chief Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and Lew Mon- hung, a one-time close supporter of Leung Chun-ying.
In response to the turnout, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the administration will always listen to people's views when deciding on policy.
But critics remarked that the chief executive is unlikely to heed calls to step down.
Front convener Jackie Hung Ling- yu said Beijing should hear the voices of the people and allow true universal suffrage.
"If the central government gives us a fake proposal," she added, "we'll occupy Central this time next year."
By nightfall, many had joined the night assembly in the Chater Road pedestrian area to hear pleas for universal suffrage. There were no incidents and the assembly ended peacefully at 9pm.
But members of the Anti-CY Alliance began a one-month hunger strike at 10pm at Chater Garden. Members intend to take turns going without food for 50 hours at a time.
Legislator Raymond Chan Chi- chuen hopes to be part of the action for seven days. Others include legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip and former radio program host "Fast Beat" Tam Tak-chi.
Ten protesters with banners against Occupy Central and a national flag were booed as they marched into Chater Garden. Some people pushed at them, and police arrested two men in their fifties for fighting after a quarrel.
But Benny Tai Yiu-ting, one of the organizers of the Occupy Central movement, denied yesterday's march to Chater Garden was a rehearsal for action next year of full voting rights have not been secured by then.
"We haven't even decided on what action to take," he said.
Marchers began assembling at Victoria Park even as the No 3 signal was hoisted and rain fell in torrents. They set off promptly at 2.30pm led by about 10 cyclists promoting bicycle use.
"What we want is the right to elect our own chief executive," said Ray Chu, a marcher accompanied by nephews aged three and six.
There was a shudder when police prevented a crowd at the Sogo Department Store from joining the main march, resulting in scuffles. Some people complained they were stuck in Causeway Bay for more than an hour as they pushed at barricades.
Radio host Li Wai-ling was pulled from the crowd by police but she was released later.
Deputy District Police Commander Mak Chin-ho rejected an accusation that officers had hindered protesters.
Earlier in the day, Leung pledged that his administration listen to people and commence constitutional reform at an appropriate time and in time for the 2017 chief executive election.