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Hong Kong protesters air grievances on New Year's day

[HONG KONG] More than 1,500 people protested in Hong Kong on New Year's day on Friday calling for the city's leader to resign and airing grievances over issues from expensive construction projects to internet freedoms.

A procession of yellow umbrellas - the symbol of the city's democracy movement - moved through the city's downtown with protesters carrying signs reading "fight for the freedom of the next generation" and demanding the resignation of officials who "sold out" the city.

Leading the protest was a large replica of a white elephant with a model of the city's unpopular leader Leung Chun-ying riding it, symbolising expensive public projects.

"We want universal pension, step down Leung Chun-ying, we are against white elephant projects," protesters repeatedly shouted.

Police said that 1,600 people joined the protest at its peak, while organisers estimate the crowd at more than 3,000.

Negative sentiment remains high against authorities after mass pro-democracy rallies calling for free leadership elections in 2014 brought no concessions on political reform from Beijing and Hong Kong authorities.

"It's really for the next generation, they deserve a better Hong Kong," pro-democracy lawmaker Claudio Mo, who participated in the rally, told AFP.

"Leung has been provoking the Hong Kong population non-stop," Mo said, adding that spiralling costs for major construction projects, such as a planned high-speed railway link with mainland China, have angered residents.

Cost estimates for that project have risen by more than 30 per cent to US$11.01 billion in recent years, and the completion date has been repeatedly pushed back.

"We would like Leung Chun-ying to step down and hold this march so he can hear what we want and know what he has done wrong," Match Ip, a 19-year-old university student told AFP.

On Thursday, Hong Kong University students and alumni voiced fury after a pro-Beijing official was appointed to a senior role at the university, as tension mounts over what critics see as political interference in the city's education system.

Once a British colony, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 under a deal that guaranteed the retention of its civil liberties and capitalist system for 50 years.