Hong Kong protesters rally for US whistleblower

Hundreds of protesters have staged a rally in Hong Kong to urge the city's government not to extradite former CIA contractor Edward Snowden.

Snowden, 29, has gone to ground in the city after revealing the United States' vast electronic surveillance operation and has vowed to fight any extradition request, AFP reports.

The US has launched a criminal investigation after Snowden, a former CIA technical assistant, leaked details of Washington's secret internet and telephone surveillance programs.

The city's first major demonstration on the issue saw protesters, including pro-democracy MPs, activists and a large number of expatriates march to the US consulate on Saturday.

They held banners and shouted "Defend Free Speech", "Protect Snowden", "No Extradition" and "Respect Hong Kong Law".

Many blew whistles and wore masks with Snowden's face on it. One protester held a sign of US President Barack Obama's famous Hope poster, edited to show the leader as a spy wearing large headphones.

The protesters, made up of 27 civil society organisations, handed a letter to the US consulate addressed to Consul-General Steve Young, which said: "For many years, the US State Department has publicly supported the cause of internet freedom and criticised other governments for conducting cyber attacks, surveillance and censorship.

"We now understand, through recent revelations, that the US government has been operating their own blanket surveillance systems and allegedly conducting cyber warfare against Hong Kong.

"This is a violation of Human Rights of people of Hong Kong and around the world."

So far the United States has not filed a formal extradition request to Hong Kong, a former British colony that retained its separate legal system when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

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