China's Hu swears in Hong Kong leader, protests expected

HONG KONG - New Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying was sworn into office on Sunday by Chinese President Hu Jintao for a five-year term in which he will confront challenges ranging from human rights to democracy after a tumultuous year of transition and protest.

Security was tight at the same harbourfront venue where the British handed Hong Kong to back to China exactly 15 years ago, with hundreds of police, some with dogs, making a solid ring fence to ensure the isolated protests were out of sight and earshot.

"This is really taking things to the extreme," said cab driver Lee Fongshu, who was forced to drop his passenger more than half a kilometre from the inauguration venue.

"Hong Kong isn't like the United States. We don't have guns and weapons here. Surely President Hu knows Hong Kong people wish to express their views and he knows all our protests have been very peaceful."

Tens of thousands of protesters were expected to hit the streets after the ceremony over a variety of issues including perceived China meddling in Hong Kong's affairs and slowing the city's moves towards full democracy.

China has promised the direct election of Hong Kong's leader in 2017, but many are sceptical the poll will be truly democratic. Other issues angering the public include a yawning wealth gap, corruption and pollution, though Sunday's ceremony was held under a sunny, blue sky.

Hong Kong was granted wide-ranging autonomy under the deal handing the former British colony back to China in 1997, allowing a degree of protest unknown on the mainland where any sign of dissent is crushed to ensure the preservation of Communist Party rule.

On Saturday, hundreds of Hong Kong protesters clashed with police as they tried to present a 100,000-name petition to Hu to probe the suspicious death of Chinese dissident Li Wangyang in hospital.

Two protesters were arrested amid clashes with police who used pepper spray to quell the crowds outside the harbourfront convention centre.

On Sunday, a group of protesters was taken away in a police van chanting slogans celebrating the pro-democracy protests in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square which were crushed by the military on June 4, 1989.

A truck draped with black June 4 slogans was forced away from the area closely tailed by a police motorbike.

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