Hong Kong leaders attend flag raising to celebrate Chinese rule

HONG KONG (AP) — New and outgoing leaders of Hong Kong participated in a flag-raising ceremony on Friday to mark the 25th anniversary of China’s return to Chinese rule, a city that has been wooed in recent years under tighter Communist Party control.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who left the mainland for the first time in 2.5 years, did not attend the ceremony, but he will attend the new government’s inauguration later on Friday.

Arriving on Thursday, Xi told well-wishers that Hong Kong had overcome many challenges over the years and “reborn from the ashes” with “great vitality”, in an apparent allusion to the pro-democracy protests in 2019. A sweeping crackdown on dissidents has transformed an economic center once known for its political and civil liberties.

Hundreds of people who attended the flag-raising ceremony included city leaders Carrie Lam, former leaders Leung Chun-ying and Donald Tsang, and incoming leader John Lee, who will become the city’s new chief executive later on Friday.

The flag-raising ceremony was held in a strong wind. The police held the two flags of China and Hong Kong and walked into the Golden Bauhinia Square to hold the flag-raising ceremony. The Chinese-style “goose step” style replaced the English-style march. When the Chinese national anthem was played, the guests stood up.

Xi Jinping, who last visited Hong Kong during festivities on July 1, 2017, warned that any activity seen as a threat to China’s sovereignty and stability would not be tolerated.

Months of pro-democracy protests in 2019 were seen as such a threat by China’s ruling Communist Party, and Xi Jinping, in a speech on Thursday night, praised Carrie Lam for ending the chaos plaguing Hong Kong and ensuring that only “patriots” can rule the city.

Since the protests, authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have drafted a national security law that has since been used to arrest dozens of activists, media figures and pro-democracy supporters; introduce more “patriotic” curricula in schools; and amend election laws , excluding opposition politicians from the city’s legislature. The changes have all but eliminated dissent in the city and forced many to leave.

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