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It took almost four hours for the hundreds of thousands of protesters who had gathered in Hong Kong’s waterfront Victoria Park to join the 2.3-mile march to its financial district.
The rally was fuelled by anger over Beijing's recent warning that it holds the ultimate authority over the southern Chinese financial centre.
Organisers had predicted the demonstration would attract more than 500,000 people, potentially making it the largest since Hong Kong returned to Chinese control.
The protest comes days after close to 800,000 residents voted in a mock referendum aimed at bolstering support for full democracy.
Hong Kongers mistrust of the central government in Beijing and its policies toward the city have spiked to record highs, according to opinion surveys released separately by two universities on Monday.