HONG KONG - Police fired choking volleys of pepper spray against Hong Kong crowds demonstrating against President Hu Jintao Saturday as he visited the unruly city to mark its return to Chinese rule.
The incident underscored tensions surrounding the 15th anniversary on Sunday of the financial hub's handover from British control. The anniversary coincides with the inauguration of a new and unpopular leader of the local government.
On the second day of Hu's three-day visit, hundreds of protesters demanding an investigation into the recent death of a well-known mainland dissident rallied near the Chinese leader's five-star hotel.
Some tried to break through giant barricades, which are being used by police for the first time since they battled violent protests during a 2005 meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Hong Kong.
Police unleashed riot-control measures to keep the demonstrators back, hitting a number of reporters and photographers including three AFP correspondents in the process with eye-stinging pepper spray.
As the faceoff developed, other protesters chanted anti-Beijing slogans and unfurled a huge banner with the Chinese character "injustice" written on it.
Another Hong Kong reporter was briefly detained after shouting questions to Hu about the 1989 Tiananmen Square bloodshed, as the president visited the construction site for a new cruise-ship terminal earlier on Saturday.
Hu's visit comes as discontent toward Beijing surges to a new post-handover high, and his visit has drawn sneers and ridicule from Hong Kongers, who cherish freedoms in the city such as the right to protest not seen in China.
There has been palpable anger over the death of veteran Tiananmen activist Li Wangyang, who was found dead in his hospital ward in China earlier this month. His family say he died under suspicious circumstances.