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Wednesday, July 1, 1998 Published at 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Hong Kong's gloomy celebration

About 2,000 people took part in a flag raising ceremony

Celebrations in Hong Kong to mark the first anniversary of Chinese rule have been low-key and subdued compared to the handover celebrations a year ago, reflecting the economic crisis facing the territory.

Once feared as a menace, China is now seen as a crutch. BBC China correspondent Matt Frei reports.
Hong Kong's chief executive, Tung Chee-Hwa, said the territory had not faced such severe difficulties in its history and it would need unprecedented courage to overcome them. But he praised China for not interfering.

Hong Kong's prospects, he added, should not be measured by its present fortunes, but by its spirit.

Mr Tung addressed Hong Kong's public as part of a special televised variety event which was a centre-piece of the anniversary celebrations.

[ image: Protestors carried a mock coffin symbolising China's 1989 pro-democracy movement]
Protestors carried a mock coffin symbolising China's 1989 pro-democracy movement
Later in the day there were scuffles as police tried to prevent protestors approaching the Hong Kong Convention Centre, where an official banquet is being held for visiting Chinese President, Jiang Zemin.

In his own address Mr Jiang struck a more reassuring tone than the chief executive.

Confidence in people

President Jiang Zemin: Hong Kong has been a great success over the past year
He said he was confident the people of Hong Kong could overcome the present economic crisis and pledged mainland support for the Hong Kong government's handling of the situation.

He emphasised the right of Hong Kong people to take control of their own future under the "one country-two systems" formula - a policy that could also serve as a solution to the Taiwan issue.

[ image:  ]
He endorsed the regional government's defence of the Hong Kong dollar and added that the mainland authorities would not devalue the Chinese currency:

The Chinese president also said Hong Kong's first year under Chinese rule provided a good example for the Portuguese colony Macau to follow when it reverts to Chinese authority next year.

Official celebrations have been modest on this first anniversary because of the financial crisis.

Political freedom

The start was marked with a flag-raising ceremony at Hong Kong's waterfront, attended by Mr Tung, senior Hong Kong officials and a crowd of about 2,000 people.

Some pro-democracy politicians, who refused to take part in official events at the time of the handover, also attended the ceremony.

[ image: The atmosphere has been subdued]
The atmosphere has been subdued
Many people in Hong Kong admit the government's political record in the past year has been much better than they expected.

Political demonstrations, for example, have been permitted.

According to a University of Hong Kong survey released on Monday, 49% of the 530 people interviewed said their confidence in Hong Kong's future had decreased since the handover, compared with 19% last July.

Another survey by Asian Commercial Research found 82% of the 706 respondents satisfied with the state of political freedom in Hong Kong. In a similar survey carried out a month before the handover last year, only 54% of respondents said they felt confident that political freedom would be maintained.

However, a group of pro-democracy protesters burned the Chinese president's picture outside the hotel where he was staying, and called on him to resign.

They plan protests throughout his visit to call for the release of political prisoners in China.

On Thursday President Jiang will preside over the formal opening of the Chek Lap Kok airport, which will begin operating on July 6.

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