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Activists, journalists barred as leader sworn in

MACAU -- Two Hong Kong journalists and more than a dozen activists were barred from entering Macau as the territory's new leader was sworn in by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Immigration officials cited security reasons for turning away a Hong Kong-based political reporter and a magazine journalist and the activists who tried to travel to Macau by ferry on Saturday.

The barring of the journalists was criticized by the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC), which said Sunday it was "shocked" at the action, which it described as ominous.

In a statement, the FCC said: "Barring reporters from covering events in Macau is an unmistakable attack on freedom of the press, not only in Macau but also in Hong Kong, and it can only risk damaging relations between the two (territories).

"It also serves to heighten existing fears of an erosion of respect for the fundamental rights ... and is in sharp contrast with Macau's long history of openness and respect for diverse opinion."

At Sunday's ceremony, Hu led the inauguration of incoming Chief Executive Fernando Chui, the second leader of the gambling resort since it reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1999.

Chui said the new government would diversify development of the territory — which is heavily dependent on gambling revenue — and strengthen regulation of the gaming industry.

In his speech, Hu praised outgoing chief executive Edmund Ho, who led the former Portuguese colony for 10 years, for implementing a national security law and not engaging in political disputes.

The remarks appeared to be a dig at Hong Kong, where the Beijing-appointed administration has failed to implement national security legislation because of mass protests by pro-democracy activists.

Macau is seen as being politically closer to China than Hong Kong. Political protests are rare and there is no significant pro-democracy movement in the territory.

Macau has become the world's most profitable gambling destination, generating more revenue than the Vegas Strip, since opening its casino industry to overseas investors in 2003.

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