Hong Kong crowd protests

A protester waves a Hong Kong colonial flag during the pro-democracy demonstration. The protest came on the same day that China's president spoke at the swearing-in of Hong Kong's new leader.
A protester waves a Hong Kong colonial flag during the pro-democracy demonstration. The protest came on the same day that China's president spoke at the swearing-in of Hong Kong's new leader. (WALLY SANTANA / Associated Press)

Thousands marched on the anniversary of the 1997 return to Chinese control.

Posted: July 02, 2012

HONG KONG - A pro-democracy heckler interrupted a speech by Chinese President Hu Jintao at the swearing-in of Hong Kong's new leader Sunday and tens of thousands of residents marched to protest Chinese rule on the 15th anniversary of the Asian financial hub's return to Beijing's control.

The outpouring of discontent underscored rising tensions between the Communist mainland and the vibrant city of seven million that was returned to China in 1997 after more than a century of British colonial rule. While much of the discontent revolves around growing economic inequality and stunted democratic development, Hong Kongers are also upset over what they see as arrogant Chinese behavior - wealthy mainlanders taking over retail outlets during flashy Hong Kong shopping trips, for example, or even the choice of language during Sunday's swearing-in ceremony, Beijing-accented Mandarin instead of the Cantonese dialect spoken locally.

In the ceremony, self-made millionaire Leung Chun-ying, 57, became Hong Kong's third chief executive. He has promised to address economic needs, including skyrocketing housing prices, which many blame on deep-pocketed mainland apartment buyers.

A demonstrator who tried to interrupt Hu as he began his address was bundled away by security officials. The man, one of the guests invited to the inauguration, waved a small flag and yelled slogans calling for China's leaders to condemn the brutal June 4, 1989, crackdown on protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. He also called for an end to one-party rule in China.

Hu took no notice and continued to read his speech, but the incident marred what was supposed to be a carefully orchestrated visit emphasizing strengthened ties between Hong Kong and mainland China.

Leung, a police officer's son, replaces career bureaucrat Donald Tsang, who took office in 2005 and is barred from another term.

Leung was chosen as chief executive in March, winning 689 votes from a 1,200-seat committee of business elites who mostly voted according to Beijing's wishes. Hong Kong's 3.4 million registered voters, who can vote for neighborhood councilors and half of all lawmakers, had no say.

In mid-afternoon, tens of thousands of protesters began marching toward the newly built government headquarters complex on Hong Kong Island in sweltering heat, beating drums and waving British colonial flags in a gesture of nostalgia for an era during which democratic rights were limited but the rule of law was firmly in place.

The protesters jammed the route of the march, a series of thoroughfares bordered by high-rise apartments and office buildings. There was occasional tension with the thousands of police officers deployed to maintain order, but by and large the event went off peacefully.

Organizers said more than 400,000 participated while police estimated there were 63,000 at the procession's peak. Hu left Hong Kong before the march began.

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