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Xi visits Hong Kong for handover anniversary as protesters prepare

HONG KONG -- Chinese President Xi Jinping made a rare visit to Hong Kong on Thursday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the territory's return to China.

Greeted by groups waving Chinese and Hong Kong flags at the airport, Xi said on the tarmac he wanted to celebrate the "enormous success of Hong Kong," Radio Television Hong Kong reported.

Xi said the central government will as always support Hong Kong in growing its economy and improving the people's livelihoods.

Arriving at the airport, Xi told reporters his three-day Hong Kong trip showcases the support for Hong Kong from the central government, which has offered its strong backing for the past 20 years.

"I believe that through the series of events to be staged in Hong Kong, our determination and confidence in developing and building a better Hong Kong will surely be enhanced," he said.

Xi will attend celebrations for the anniversary and the inauguration of the fifth-term government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's return from British rule and the establishment of the HKSAR.

Xi congratulated the special administrative region on its great achievements over the 20 years since its establishment, and he encouraged the HKSAR to create new glory.

He also said he will join people from all walks of life in Hong Kong to review the HKSAR's extraordinary 20-year journey, sum up its experience and plan the future to ensure the smooth and long-term successful practice of the "one country, two systems" policy.

"I'm pleased to have set foot in Hong Kong once again after nine years," Xi said. "Hong Kong's development has always pulled at my heartstrings."

Time of Tension

The anniversary comes at a time of continuing tension about the influence of the Beijing authorities on Hong Kong, which is meant to retain a high degree of autonomy according to a deal struck with Britain, the former colonial power.

Pro-Beijing and pro-democracy protests are planned across the territory during the next three days.

On Friday night, the Hong Kong National Party, a pro-independence group, will gather near the clock tower at the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. On Saturday, an annual march will set off from Victoria Park, a popular site of protest in Causeway Bay.

The pro-Beijing Hong Kong Celebration Association is holding a Chinese technology exhibit in Victoria Park the same day. The Hong Kong-UK Reunification Campaign - arguing for a return of the territory to Britain - is also holding a rally on Saturday in the park.

It is the first time the Chinese president has visited Hong Kong in nine years. Security was tightened in key locations around the city.

Groups of police were standing guard and finishing preparations around the 2-metre-high barriers forming a perimeter around the hotels and the exhibition centre where most of the official ceremonies will take place on Friday and Saturday.

Flags of Hong Kong and China and other red-coloured paraphernalia lined the streets where Xi's motorcade was likely to pass.

The president will kick off his trip with a visit to the West Kowloon Cultural District to oversee an agreement to open a Hong Kong branch of Beijing's Palace Museum in the city.

He will later attend a banquet in his honour at Government House, reported the South China Morning Post.

Xi is expected to be present at the swearing-in of incoming chief executive Carrie Lam and her cabinet on Saturday.

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