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Hong Kong celebrates 10 years of Chinese rule

HONG KONG: Hong Kong on Sunday celebrated 10 years under Chinese rule with pomp and circumstance, but pro-democracy campaigners were set to spoil the party with a call for sweeping political reform.

The city’s chief executive Donald Tsang and his new cabinet were due to be sworn in before Chinese President Hu Jintao at the start of a jam-packed day of events to mark the anniversary of the handover of the former British colony.

But in stark contrast to July 1, 1997 — when the last colonial governor Chris Patten, Prince Charles and then prime minister Tony Blair were on hand — no high-ranking British officials have been invited to participate.

On that day, British dignitaries sailed out of Victoria Harbour in driving rain, ending 155 years of British rule over Hong Kong and launching a new era for the city as a Chinese territory.

The celebrations began Sunday with a flag-raising ceremony to the sound of the national anthem, played by a police band.

Around 1,000 people, including Tsang in his trademark bow tie, former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa and British Consul-General Stephen Bradley looked on as the five-starred red Chinese flag went up beside Hong Kong’s red and white flag.

The sun briefly broke through the clouds during the morning ceremony, but forecasters warned of rain later in the day, in a repeat of the weather conditions that marked handover celebrations 10 years ago.

Later in the morning Hu was due to preside over a swearing-in ceremony for Tsang, who is set to begin a new five-year term in office, in the presence of thousands of guests.

Tsang, a 63-year-old former civil servant, was awarded a fresh term as chief executive in March after securing the overwhelming support of an election committee of 800 mainly Beijing loyalists.

Since the handover, activists have been calling for full democracy in the city, where citizens do not have the right to choose their own leaders and only half the 60-member legislature is directly elected.

Hu will miss the rally, as he is scheduled to preside over the opening of a new crossing that links the territory with the Chinese boomtown of Shenzhen before heading back to Beijing.

The day of celebrations was to end with a colourful fireworks display over Victoria Harbour, with the words “Chinese people” spelled out in glittering lights.

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