Hong Kong installs a new leader and marks 15 years of Chinese rule Sunday, at a time of strong anti-Beijing sentiment after visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao was targeted by angry protesters.
Hu is scheduled to inaugurate the city’s next chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, and his government at 9:00 am (0100 GMT) at a ceremony that will be attended by about 2,300 guests at a harbourfront convention hall.
Protesters are planning to march to a flag-raising ceremony to be held in the morning which Hu — on his last visit to Hong Kong before a key leadership reshuffle in Beijing — is expected to attend.
The Chinese leader is expected to leave the city around noon just before tens of thousands of Hong Kong people take to the streets at an annual rally to demand greater democracy and rail against Beijing’s meddling in local affairs.
A few dozen protesters tried to get past giant barricades measuring more than two metres (6.5 feet) high at rallies near Hu’s hotel on Saturday. Police unleashed pepper spray to push the demonstrators back.
Chanting anti-Beijing slogans and holding banners, the protesters urged Hu for an explanation over the suspicious death of a leading Chinese dissident this month, an issue that has exacerbated anger in Hong Kong towards Beijing.
The former British colony was returned to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, under a “one country, two systems” model that guaranteed Hong Kong a semi-autonomous status including civil liberties unheard of on the mainland.
China’s rise has helped spur impressive economic growth in Hong Kong and boost the city’s status as a key financial hub, but tensions are growing between the seven million locals and their northern neighbours.
Hong Kongers accuse an influx of newly rich Chinese mainlanders of everything from pushing up property prices to monopolising school places, maternity beds and even baby milk formula.
A poll released by the University of Hong Kong last week showed mistrust among Hong Kongers toward Beijing at a new post-handover high of 37 percent.
Another survey by the university this week showed the number of Hong Kong people who identify themselves primarily as citizens of China has plunged to a 13-year low.
New chief executive Leung, a 57-year-old millionaire property consultant who will take over from outgoing leader Donald Tsang, has promised to tackle people’s grievances including a widening gap between the poor and rich.
But the unpopular Leung has already attracted protests drawing thousands of people decrying Chinese interference in the political process, since his election in March by a committee stacked with pro-Beijing elites.