Hong Kong security tightened ahead of top Chinese visit

Hong Kong security tightened ahead of top Chinese visit

Hong Kong has launched one of its largest security operations in years, as a high-ranking Chinese politician is set to arrive in the city.

Zhang Dejiang, the man responsible for Hong Kong affairs in Beijing, arrives amid concerns over the territory’s freedoms and interference by China.

More than 6,000 police have been deployed and restricted zones imposed in the city centre, local media report.

Pro-democracy groups say they will stage protests during the visit.

Mr Zhang, who is also chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and so China’s third-highest ranking leader , is the most senior official to visit Hong Kong since 2014 when thousands of protesters took over major parts of the city to demand fully free elections.

Since then so-called “localist” groups have sprung up and shown themselves willing to use violence to battle what they see as a dilution of the city’s identity, fearing growing social and political influence from mainland China.

In February, hundreds of demonstrators, fuelled by such localist sentiment, dug up and threw bricks during a violent clash with police as they tried to shut a night food market – seen by protesters as a symbol of local traditions.

Earlier this month, reports said paving stones had been reinforced with glue around the legislative building so that they could not be used as projectiles.

Local media also report that police were stationed on Hong Kong’s iconic Lion Rock mountain in an effort to prevent the practice of anti-Beijing banners being unfurled from there.

And on Monday a Hong Kong man was arrested just over the border in Shenzhen for trying to buy a drone purportedly to be used to disrupt the visit. Drones have also been banned as part of the heightened security measures.

Mr Zhang is in Hong Kong to speak at an economic conference on Wednesday and will meet with a small group of pro-democracy lawmakers. “It is really time for him to meet with non-establishment legislators… to hear our analysis of how Hong Kong ended up where we are today, and what are the ways forward,” Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong, who is part of the group, told AFP news agency.

The intensity of security arrangements around Mr Zhang’s trip are a sign of just how concerned the authorities are says the BBC’s Juliana Liu in Hong Kong. But pro-democracy activists are upset they will be denied the chance to get close to Mr Zhang, and have vowed to challenge the security restriction, our correspondent adds.

Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland, which were integral to the handover agreement when Hong Kong was returned to China by the British in 1997.

But concerns that such freedoms could be in question were heightened by the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers known for publishing controversial books about Chinese leaders.

The men were later found to have been detained by mainland authorities in what the UK foreign office called a “serious breach” of protocol.