A flag raising ceremony signalled the start of celebrations in Hong Kong marking the 18th anniversary of its return to mainland China.
It was attended by China’s most senior official in Hong Kong, Zhang Xiaoming, who said this week the city should shift its focus from political reform and concentrate instead on economic development.
However thousands are expected to attend a pro-democracy march. It comes nearly two weeks after Hong Kong’s legislature vetoed a Beijing-backed electoral reform proposal that had triggered sometimes-violent protests in the city, presenting Beijing with its most serious challenge in years.
Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that granted the city wide-ranging freedoms denied in mainland China, including the right to large public protests that include a June 4 vigil to mark the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing.
China also held out the promise of universal suffrage. The electoral blueprint rejected by lawmakers would have allowed a direct vote for the city’s next chief executive in 2017, but only from among pre-screened, pro-Beijing candidates.