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Protests in Hong Kong as top China official visits

A plainclothes policewoman (R) tries to control a protester (C) waving a Tibetan flag during a protest march in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong on May 18, 2016 calling for universal suffrage and an end to arrests of activists in China as a top Beijing official visits the city. The protest coincided with three-day trip by Zhang Dejiang, who chairs China's communist-controlled legislature, and is the first by such a senior official in four years and comes as concerns grow that freedoms are under threat in semi-autonomous city. / AFP PHOTO / Richard A. Brooks

 

Hong Kong / AFP

Hong Kong protesters angry at a visit by a top Beijing official shouted pro-democracy slogans on Wednesday but were kept well away from a mission seen as an attempt to bridge the city’s growing political divide.
The three-day trip by Zhang Dejiang, who chairs China’s communist-controlled legislature, is the first by such a senior official for four years. It comes as concerns grow that freedoms are under threat in semi-autonomous Hong Kong as Beijing tightens its grip.
Although Zhang’s trip is ostensibly for an economic conference, it is widely seen as a conciliatory effort and a chance to gauge whether Beijing should back the city’s unpopular leader Leung Chun-ying to stand for a second term.
Frustration over lack of political reform has sparked a fledgling independence movement, condemned by authorities in both Hong Kong and mainland China.
During a speech at the conference on China’s “One Belt, One Road” international trade and investment plan on Wednesday, Zhang urged Hong Kong to play a bigger role in China’s national development strategy.
“I hope that Hong Kong, with a broader mind and vision, will fully seize the major opportunities of Belt and Road,” he said.
He emphasised the shared Cantonese culture of southern China and Hong Kong, an apparent attempt to ease fears Beijing is trying to erode the city’s separate identity. Hongkongers speak Cantonese rather than the Mandarin dominant on the mainland, and there are concerns the language is being squeezed out.

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