People take part in a pro-government rally in Hong Kong on August 17, 2014. Thousands protested in Hong Kong on August 17 against plans by pro-democracy activists to paralyse the city centre with a mass sit-in unless China grants acceptable electoral reforms. Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Image

Thousands of marchers have taken to the streets of Hong Kong to support the city's pro-Beijing administration, as a debate about the future of democracy in the special administrative region of China rages.

BBC News reports that More than 120,000 people have signed up for the rally in support of the government, which began at 1:30pm local time (01:30am EDT), but organizers say the turnout could reach 200,000.

The rally is aimed at countering the "Occupy Central" movement, a pro-democracy group that proposes to stage a sit-in in the city's central business district, unless the government in Beijing allows candidates for the post of Chief Executive, the highest post in the Chinese Administrative Region's devolved government, in the 2017 election to run without having to be subject to a political screening process. Critics claim the screening process will eliminate any candidate who is not favored by the Beijing government.
Agence France-Presse, or AFP, reports that the Alliance for Peace and Democracy, who organized the protest, claim that the majority of Hong Kong's seven million residents do not support the Occupy movement. "We want to let the world know that we want peace, we want democracy, but please, do not threaten us, do not try to turn this place into a place of violence," said the alliance's co-founder, Robert Chow.
The city has seen tit-for-tat rallies and petitions in recent months. A non-official poll run by the Occupy movement on the future of the city's democracy attracted nearly 800,000 voters. Meanwhile, a petition against the Occupy Central movement was signed by CY Leung, the city's current Chief Executive, and several members of his cabinet.
The South China Morning Post reports that critics of the march have claimed that marchers had been coerced into attending, with some allegedly being offered time off of work or a free lunch. Reuters also reports that some participants, mostly elderly, told the news agency that they had been provided with free transport by various political and business groups.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the next significant stage in the city's political debate will come later this month when China's top legislative body, the National People's Congress, issues its position on democracy in Hong Kong, which is expected to allow everyone to vote, but only for approved candidates.
Bloomberg reports that Occupy Central has threatened to organize a 10,000 strong sit-in if political reforms fail to meet what it terms as “international standards.” The protests may take place in next month if China indicates that there is no room for negotiation on political reform.