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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hong Kong Celebrates Decade of Chinese Rule

HONG KONG -- Hong Kongers celebrated the 10th anniversary of the handover to China on Sunday with a colorful parade, a dazzling display by paratroopers and a mass street protest to call for progress on democratic reform.

Several thousand pro-democracy protesters streamed through the city as they marched to the government's downtown headquarters from Victoria Park, named after Queen Victoria, and one of the few remaining vestiges of British colonialism since the Chinese took control July 1, 1997.

Under the handover agreement negotiated by Britain and China in 1984, Hong Kongers are entitled eventually to elect their leader and legislature, although the document is vague on when that is supposed to happen.

Police put the number of protesters at about 20,000, slightly below last year's turnout. Organizers said 68,000 people had turned out.

Many joined the march as it snaked through residential and business districts, waving banners calling for universal suffrage, cleaner skies and an improvement in social welfare.

"We can all see that there hasn't been any democratic progress in the past 10 years," Anson Chan, the former No. 2 in the government said.

Chan, who has become a key figure in the pro-democracy movement, also called for changes to address Hong Kong's growing rich-poor divide and worsening air pollution, which has seen many businesses relocate to other Asian cities over the years.

Earlier in the day, Chinese and Hong Kong leaders praised the territory for bouncing back from a turbulent decade of financial, health and political crises, but warned that the next 10 years would pose equally tough challenges from Asian cities threatening to eclipse it as a global business capital.

"The competition ahead is fierce. We are not only competing with neighboring cities, but with cities around the world," said Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang, a bow tie-wearing, veteran civil servant who was sworn in Sunday for a second term.

At the start of the day, a few hundred people stood near Hong Kong's harbor to watch as the Chinese and Hong Kong flags were hoisted into a cloudy blue sky, a sharp contrast with the driving rain that drenched the handover ceremony in 1997. A band played China's national anthem and the crowd cheered when four helicopters pulling the two flags flew overhead, leaving a stream of red smoke.

Hours later, thousands poured onto the streets, waving flags, while about 20 Chinese paratroopers dropped out of the sky. Chinese patriotism has been a key theme of the anniversary celebrations, which were to be capped with a spectacular firework display Sunday night spelling out the words "Chinese people."

"The last 10 years have been OK. What we really need to do is look forward now. Hong Kong people must be optimistic," said spectator Ken Chen, who works in property management.

But another resident, Rusli Lie, said she feared Hong Kong might get edged out by regional rivals Singapore and Shanghai.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, who arrived in the city for the celebrations Friday, praised Hong Kongers for their resilience. He also said Hong Kong's "democracy is growing in an orderly way," but made no mention of when residents would get full democracy.

Since Hong Kong returned to China, the city has been governed under a "one country, two systems" formula. The arrangement has allowed the territory to keep its capitalist economy, British-style legal system, free press and civil liberties.

But although the city has one of Asia's most prosperous and well-educated societies, they still cannot directly elect their leader and entire legislature.

Protesters have staged several rallies during Hu's three-day trip, including burning photos of the Chinese leader and an effigy of what they said was the brutal Beijing regime. Members of the Democratic Party also held a midnight Saturday vigil on the balcony of the legislative building, during which they urged Beijing to trust Hong Kongers to elect a responsible leader.

Hu steered clear of the protests, and left Hong Kong before Sunday's mass street rally.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, an outspoken critic of Beijing's human rights record, said it was his first time to participate in the march.

"The democratic development is not moving forward on these few years. ... Universal suffrage is not a solution to all problems but it certainly can help improve Hong Kong," he said.

Vivian Ma, a secretary, said she had marched every year since 1989, when troops in Beijing crushed pro-democracy protesters, killing hundreds, possibly thousands, and sparking a protest in Hong Kong of nearly 1 million.

"Hong Kong has to fight for universal suffrage," she said.

Tsang on Sunday repeated his pledge to tackle the thorny issue during his five-year term. "We will develop a system that is more democratic," he said, without elaborating.