HONG KONG – The flags of China and Hong Kong were raised during a ceremony at Golden Bauhinia Square in Hong Kong on Saturday (July 1) morning as the territory marks the 20th anniversary of its return to China from British rule.

A massive security blanket surrounded Hong Kong early on Saturday as China’s President Xi Jinping prepared to swear in the city’s first female leader Carrie Lam.

Earlier, a group of pro-democracy protesters attempted to march to the venue with a prop coffin.

Protesters carrying the coffin chanted slogans mourning this day which marks the 20th anniversary that Hong Kong was returned to China from Britain in 1997.

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Just as the group of over 10 protesters including lawmaker Leung Kwok Hung and activist Joshua Wong were leaving Wan Chai MTR station where they had assembled the coffin earlier, someone in the crowd attacked the group from behind and destroyed the coffin.

A media frenzy broke out following a clash between the protesters and the crowd, some of whom were seen carrying China flags. Protesters screamed and accused the police of not “doing their job”.

“Arrest the person who destroyed the coffin!” one protester shouted.

Within minutes, three policemen were seen pinning down a man believed to have been involved in destroying the coffin.

Meanwhile, another group of protesters carrying Hong Kong and China flags arrived at the scene, hurling abusive language at Mr Leung and Mr Wong. Some of them were pushed out onto the road, causing traffic to come to a stop.

Protesters carrying a coffin and chanted slogans mourning this day which marks the 20th anniversary that Hong Kong was returned to China from Britain in 1997.

Within 20 minutes, a number of police vans arrived to take away the pro-democracy protesters.

A spokesman for political group Demosisto said five of its members including its co-founder Joshua Wong and four members from the League of Social Democrats including Mr Leung, were taken away by the police. “Joshua Wong was handcuffed,” the spokesman said in a note to the media.

Mr Leung told the media earlier that the coffin was to remind people that the occasion is not worth celebrating, as thousands of students were killed during the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989. 

Earlier on, an unknown man had rushed up to kick the coffin as the protesters were assembling it. The man managed to escape despite some protesters chasing him down the road. It is not known if it is the same man who had managed to eventually tear the coffin apart.

The city has been in a security lockdown while China President Xi Jinping arrived on Thursday for the anniversary celebrations.

Speaking at a banquet held in his honour on Friday, Mr Xi vowed there will be no wavering from the implementation of the “one country, two systems” principle even as he acknowledged that there have been new challenges in carrying it out.

Groups of Hong Kongers have been staging protests since Mr Xi’s arrival against what they saw as an erosion of their political freedoms that were guaranteed under the framework.

Mr Xi will leave on Saturday afternoon.

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