Hu urges unity and tolerance amid protests
President Hu Jintao issued a clarion call for unity as he met Hong Kong's business and political elite behind a tight ring of security - but outside, hundreds of protesters demanded democracy and transparency over the death of dissident Li Wangyang. They clashed with police, who responded with pepper spray.
On the second day of his visit to the city to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the handover, Hu told a gathering of tycoons and political leaders that Hong Kong society needed more 'co-operation, consultation and tolerance'.
Those qualities were in short supply outside the Convention and Exhibition Centre, where the president was speaking. The anger of protesters was stoked by the earlier forced removal of a journalist from a designated press area by plain-clothes police after he shouted a question about the Tiananmen Square crackdown to Hu during the leader's visit to the new Kai Tak cruise terminal.
The removal of Apple Daily reporter Rex Hon Yiu-ting prompted an angry response from journalists' groups, academics and pan-democrat politicians, who described it as an attack on press freedom. It also led police to issue a statement of 'regret' about the incident, which a force spokesman said would be investigated. The newspaper's chief editor, Cheung Kim-hung, condemned the police action and said the newspaper was considering legal action.
It is not clear whether Hu heard the reporter ask if the president had heard Hong Kong people's calls for the truth about the June 4 crackdown, but Hon - who was held in a stairwell for about 15 minutes before being released once Hu had left the area - later said: 'The police said I had caused a disturbance by asking the question too loudly.'
Mak Yin-ting, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said: 'Journalists should be allowed to ask whatever questions they want to ask, regardless of the content and the volume.'
The Hong Kong News Executives' Association and more than a dozen journalism scholars from five local universities also condemned the police action and demanded a full investigation of the incident.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, chairman of the Legislative Council's security panel, said the police abused their power, as the reporter did not break any law.
In a statement, the police expressed regret for causing 'grave concern' to the media and said it was an 'isolated event'. It is understood senior officers are viewing the incident as an overreaction by the officer involved, who had not been ordered to remove Hon.
As Hu met business elites at the Convention Centre, hundreds of protesters from the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China clashed outside with police. Lawmaker 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung, several journalists and protesters were pepper-sprayed in the face. Two protesters were arrested for disorderly behaviour, but later released, police said.
The alliance chairman, Lee Cheuk-yan, condemned the police for using unnecessary force.
Hu, who will swear in Leung Chun-ying as Hong Kong's third chief executive today, twice called on Hongkongers from all walks of life to promote a spirit of unity and show support for the new government.
'In light of the interest of the country and Hong Kong as a whole, I hope there will be more co-operation, more consultation and more tolerance,' Hu told hundreds of invited guests during a gala dinner.
He praised the contribution of outgoing leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa for 'developing the economy in a stable way, improving people's livelihoods continuously, ensuring orderly democratic progress, and maintaining social harmony and stability' in the 15 years since the handover.
But he urged Hongkongers to 'strengthen the sense of being their own master, because they have an unshirkable responsibility to build, manage and develop the city well'.
The president also asked Hong Kong people to 'be flexible and creative in encountering continuous external changes', a reference to the international uncertainty amid the debt crisis in Europe.
After the meeting, Cheung Kong (Holdings) chairman Li Ka-shing - who backed Henry Tang Ying-yen, Leung's rival in the chief executive race - refused to say whether he would support Leung, who is facing controversy after the discovery of illegal structures at his home on The Peak, and his new administration.
Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong, joint-chairman of Sun Hung Kai Properties, who also nominated Tang, echoed Hu's calls for unity and offered support to the incoming leader. Kwok his two brothers, Raymond Kwok Ping-luen and Walter Kwok Ping-sheung, and former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan, are under investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption on suspicion of bribery and misconduct in office. None has been charged.