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Hong Kong Celebrates Handover

July 1, 1999

HONG KONG (AP) _ With protesters chanting nearby, Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao unveiled a ``reunification monument″ in Hong Kong today and said the territory has stayed prosperous and free in the two years since its return to China.

``Hong Kong people can absolutely manage Hong Kong well,″ Hu told an audience of dignitaries including the territory’s leader, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. ``Hong Kong has kept its social and financial systems that have been in place, and its way of living has not been changed.″

As Hu spoke, shouts of dissent were audible from just outside the ceremony. Two small groups of demonstrators were demanding the release of political prisoners in China and an end to its one-party communist system.

And as Hong Kong enters its third year as part of China, many citizens have their doubts about how well things are going.

The anniversary of the July 1, 1997, handover is now a public holiday. But few residents were celebrating amid a drawn-out recession and accusations that the affluent territory is fast surrendering its autonomy.

``What’s there to celebrate? They are wasting our money on the celebrations,″ said retiree Lau Kam-wah.

Officials marked the day with hoopla including a boat parade and a formation of helicopters that towed the Chinese and Hong Kong flags over Victoria Harbor.

In demonstrations that would not be permitted on the mainland, activists called for amnesty for political prisoners, including those jailed 10 years ago after the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing that were crushed by China’s armed forces.

``The butchers’ regime must step down,″ one banner read.

The protesters scuffled with police and were blocked from getting too close to the ceremony. Police later confiscated the demonstrators’ megaphones. No one was arrested.

Hong Kong was reunited with China after 156 years of British rule. Now China’s ``special administrative region,″ it has kept the free-market economy and the British-style judiciary and civil service under a formula dubbed ``one country, two systems,″ which guarantees Hong Kong autonomy.

Most agree that Beijing has largely kept to its hands-off pledge, but critics say Hong Kong is chipping away at its own independence _ in one recent case by asking for Beijing’s help in a legal dilemma.

Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal ruled in January that Hong Kong’s mini-constitution granted Hong Kong residency to any mainland Chinese with one Hong Kong parent, even if the parent gained residency after the child was born.

Fearing a migrant influx would overwhelm Hong Kong’s resources, Hong Kong asked Chinese lawmakers to pass a final judgment on what the constitution was intended to say about such immigrants.

The Chinese congress ruled Saturday that Hong Kong’s justices had erred _ a decision that could cut the number of potential immigrants over the next decade from 1.6 million to about 200,000.

``The `two systems’ are being blurred,″ said lawmaker Martin Lee, leader of the opposition Democratic Party. ``The `one country’ is more important than `two systems.‴

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