Police used pepper spray to disperse crowds of Hong Kongers demonstrating against Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) yesterday, ahead of the 15th anniversary of the territory’s handover amid tight security.
On the second day of his visit to the city, hundreds of protesters demanding an investigation into the death of a leading Chinese dissident rallied near Hu’s hotel, which was surrounded by giant barricades.
Hundreds of demonstrators, who tried to breach the giant blue and white barriers, were targeted with pepper spray as protesters chanted anti-Beijing slogans and unfurled a huge banner bearing the Chinese character “injustice.”
Hu’s visit comes as discontent toward Beijing surges to a new high, and his visit has drawn sneers and ridicule from Hong Kongers.
Some reporters, including three AFP journalists, at the scene were also hit by pepper spray, while another reporter was manhandled.
One local reporter was briefly held yesterday after asking Hu about the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
There was palpable anger against the death of Chinese dissident Li Wangyang (李旺陽), who was jailed for more than 22 years over the 1989 Tiananmen democracy protests. He was found dead in his hospital ward in China early last month, where his family said he died under suspicious circumstances.
There is an unusually tight security cordon around Hu’s five-star hotel and a convention hall where key celebrations, including the inauguration of the city’s new leader, will be held.
Police manned every intersection and building entrance nearby, part of an enhanced security presence visible around the city.
The barricades are more than 2m high — a size last used during protests against the WTO in Hong Kong in 2005 — and are likely to defy Hu’s wish to “walk more” and “see more” in the city.
Metal fences set up to keep potential demonstrators in a so-called “petition zone” and “protest zone” are so far away that Hu and his delegation are unlikely to see or hear any protests.
“Are we celebrating the handover anniversary or staging a war?” a Facebook user wrote.
Other users said the Asian financial hub, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, had been turned into a “city of barricades.”