Thousands of protesters rallied on the streets of Hong Kong to demand democracy on the 16th anniversary of the former British colony's handover to China.

According to the organisers, more than 400,000 people ognored heavy rain to voice their protests against Beijing-backed chief executive Leung Chun-Ying. Police said 66,000 turned out for the march.

"One person, one foot! Kick Leung Chun-ying out!" was one slogan. "Chinese colonists get out!" was another.

Leung was selected as Hong Kong's leader by an inner circle of just 1,200 electors in 2012.

Hong Kongers have grown frustrated by his leadership and Beijing's growing influence on the the city which holds the status of Special Administrative Region since it was reunited with China in 1997. It maintains many of its own laws but has still not granted full democracy.

Beijing pledged to let Hong Kongers vote for their chief executive in a fully democratic election by 2017 with open voting for the entire legislature scheduled for 2020.

But protesters who gathered in Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island to march to to the Central financial district said there have been few if any signs of genuine progress towards democracy.

"Hong Kong people have been waiting too long for universal suffrage and for building a democratic city," said Andrew Shum of organisers the Civil Human Rights Front. "Many people feel very angry."

Leung, a self-made millionaire, came under fire shortly after taking office when he tried to introduce Chinese patriotism classes in schools. He was accused of putting in place a plan by China to brainwash Hong Kong youth.

Others waved Hong Kong colonial flag, Union Jacks and even portraits of Queen Elizabeth.

"They don't want to respect our culture. They want to colonize us, they want Hong Kong to be one of the cities of China," said Ivan Pang, a 21-year-old university graduate. "We can't tolerate that. We want to take back control of Hong Kong."

Leung said the implementation of universal suffrage was a major task. "The Hong Kong government will launch a consultation at an appropriate juncture," he said.