Hong Kong's new Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying smiles during the flag raising ceremony to mark the 15th anniversary of the Hong Kong handover to China in Hong Kong on Sunday. Leung was sworn in on Sunday amid a rising tide of public discontent over widening inequality and lack of full democracy in the semiautonomous southern Chinese financial center.
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HONG KONG -- Tens of thousands of protesters took to Hong Kong's streets in a largely peaceful rally hours after incoming Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying pledged to fight poverty and boost public housing.
Organizers said 400,000 people marched in the hours after Mr. Leung, 57, was sworn in Sunday amid tight security in a ceremony at the same venue used to mark the end of British rule 15 years ago.
Police estimated 55,000 protesters, but they counted only those who joined the demonstration at the start, not along the march.
"Everyone in our community should be able to share in the fruits of our economic development," Mr. Leung said, pledging to set up a poverty task force. As Hong Kong's third chief executive, he must tackle Asia's biggest wealth gap, the worst since records started in 1971, and demands for direct elections by 2017. At the same time, China aims to bind the city's economy more closely to the mainland's and keep stability ahead of its own once-a-decade leadership transition this year.
After Mr. Leung spoke, visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao said Hong Kong should expand ties and resolve "deep-rooted" conflicts.
Demonstrators turned out to draw attention to issues from the wealth gap and human rights in China to demands to raise the minimum wage.
Organizers said the turnout was the highest since the same date in 2003 when half a million protested then-Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's plans to impose an anti-subversion law.