Hong Kong protests mark 21 years since reunification with China

Hong Kong (dpa) - Hong Kong on Sunday marked 21 years since reunification with China with competing events against and in support of Beijing's rule.

An annual march organized by the Civil Human Rights Front saw thousands of demonstrators march from Victoria Park through the city's business and government districts.

Around 50,000 people attended the demonstration, according to the organizer, although a police spokeswoman put the figure at 9,800 at its peak. 

Held annually since 1997, the protest is often a forum to air grievances with current policy and the Hong Kong government. The 2003 demonstration saw a record half a million people demonstrate against national security legislation which was ultimately revoked.

Participation in 2017 hit an all-time low, however.

"The Hong Kong people have had enough. It's been 21 years. We hate this country," says Raymond Chan, who has lived in Hong Kong for 65 years.

"We made this place so small and so great, but now it's rotten," he said, before joking that he might disappear into China, a reference to five booksellers who were kidnapped in Hong Kong in 2015 by Chinese security agents for selling books banned in the mainland.

Dozens of groups representing various causes - from the Falun Gong spiritual movement that is banned in China, to gay and transgender rights, animal welfare, domestic workers and others - set up booths along the march route collecting funds, signatures, and selling merchandise to protesters.

One community group from the Kowloon East district wore masks with Chief Executive Carrie Lam's nose extended like Pinocchio to protest policies they felt were "cheating them," according to group member Dante Kam.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government has organized cultural events around the city to celebrate reunification, including an evening fireworks display.

Patriotic feelings towards China vary dramatically between generations, with younger people expressing largely negative views about Beijing in the years since 2014's pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests. 

In a survey asking participants if they were "proud citizens of China," the University of Hong Kong found 77 per cent of people aged 18-29 said "no," which dropped to 44 per cent for those over the age of 50.

Fifty-one per cent of people aged over 50 said they were proud citizens of China, compared to only 16 per cent for the 18-29 group.

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