Reuters: Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong hours after Chinese President Hu Jintao swore in the city’s new leader and urged him to resolve what he called “deep disagreements” among the islanders.
The by-now annual 1 July demonstration – marking the end of British colonial rule in 1997 – was the biggest in years as people took advantage of Hong Kong’s laws that make it the only place in China where public protests are permitted.
Hundreds of police maintained a tight cordon around the same harbour front where Britain handed Hong Kong back to Chinese rule 15 years ago as Hu swore in the new leader – something that also always happens on 1 July.
Hu expressed China’s confidence in Hong Kong’s role as a free, law-abiding society, though, in a sign of Beijing’s anxiety over recent tensions, he appealed for unity and called on the new administration to pursue social harmony.
“While we recognise Hong Kong’s achievements 15 years after the handover, we must also be conscious of the deep disagreements and problems in Hong Kong society,” Hu said.
His call comes amid concerns in Hong Kong over human rights abuses on the mainland, sky-high property prices and the huge numbers of mainland Chinese visitors to Hong Kong.
A lone protester stood and heckled Hu as he spoke, demanding an end to one-party rule and dictatorship in China, before being wrestled away by around 10 security personnel.
Several demonstrators were taken away in a police van. A truck draped with black slogans denouncing the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 was forced away and tailed by a police motorcycle.
“Hong Kong has freedoms, and we have the right to protest! Why do you even stop us from walking?” lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan shouted into a loud hailer as he harangued police.
Hong Kong is a liberal, global financial hub agitating for full democracy, making it both an asset and a potentially dangerous precedent for China where people are becoming increasingly intolerant of rights abuses and curtailed freedoms.
New Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying, known to have close ties to China’s Communist Party, delivered his inaugural speech in Mandarin, not the local dialect Cantonese.
After the morning swearing-in ceremony, demonstration organisers put the number of protesters at 400,000, while police said the figure was 65,000. Hong Kong University said up to 112,000 took part.