New HK leader vows to listen after mass protest

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's new leader vowed Monday he would "humbly" listen to the public, but some critics are already branding him a lame duck after the restive Chinese city's biggest protest in nearly a decade.

Organisers said 400,000 people took to the streets Sunday to protest against Leung Chun-ying's leadership and Beijing's interference in local affairs, hours after Leung was sworn in as chief executive before Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Police gave a much lower turnout of 63,000 at the rally and march, which took place on the 15th anniversary of the former British colony's return to China. But both estimates were the highest respective figures for eight years.

"My government and I will seriously and humbly listen to the people's demands, no matter through what means or how many people were there," Leung said about the massive protest.

"We hope we can fight together with the people to fulfil the people's demands," he told reporters as he visited a local neighbourhood, part of a charm campaign designed to address simmering public discontent.

Sunday's protest came as a defiant reception for Leung and a show of popular anger among the seven million people of Hong Kong, a financial hub that retains a semi-autonomous status in China with its own legal and financial systems.

President Hu's weekend visit was held under smothering security, and drew sneers from Hong Kongers as anti-Beijing sentiment surges to a post-handover high in opinion polls.

Leung has pledged to tackle public grievances, including a widening gap between the rich and poor, and soaring property costs which have made home ownership an impossible dream for many residents, especially younger people.

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