As Hong Kong marks 15 years of Chinese rule, mass anti-Beijing demonstrations have been taking place in the former British colony. They come shortly after the inauguration of the territory's new leader.
Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday as the territory marked 15 years since the transfer from British to Chinese rule.
Marchers were protesting at what they see as an erosion of rights under the influence of Beijing, although Hong Kong enjoys a degree of civil liberty and autonomy that would be unthinkable on the Chinese mainland.
"Hong Kong has become much worse off," Eric Laui of the Civil Human Rights Front told protesters. "Our rights are under serious threat."
Many Hongkongers also accuse rich Chinese from the mainland of pushing up property prices, monopolizing school places and occupying maternity beds, among other things.
Protests take place annually on the anniversary of the handover.
New leader sworn in
The protests came shortly after Chinese President Hu Jintao returned to Beijing, following a three-day visit to Hong Kong during which he presided over the inauguration of the country's new chief executive, Leung Chun-ying.
Leung, 57, a millionaire property consultant, was elected in March by an elite 1,200-strong special committee consisting largely of pro-Beijing loyalists. He replaces Donald Tsang in the post.
He is unpopular in many quarters because of his close ties to Beijing. His reputation has also been tainted by involvement in a housing scandal involving illegal constructions in a luxury villa.
In his inauguration speech to the around 2,300 guests at the ceremony, Leung pledged to tackle the problem of a widening gap between rich and poor and grievances over prohibitively expensive housing.
"If we work together, I am sure Hong Kong - the Pearl of the Orient - will sparkle again," Leung said.
When Hu took the podium, he said Beijing's support for the "one country, two systems" model and the right of the people of Hong Kong to rule the territory was was "unwavering."
The "one country, two systems" model was set up when Hong Kong moved to Chinese rule in 1997 after more than a century as a British colony.
However, Hu also struck a warning note.
"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.
A protester who heckled Hu during his speech, demanding an end to one-party rule and dictatorship in China, was hustled away by nearly ten security personnel.
On Saturday, hundreds of protesters clashed with police as they tried to hand Hu a 100,000-name petition asking for an investigation into the suspicious death of Chinese dissident Li Wangyang.
tj/msh (dpa, AFP)