HONG KONG – A Hong Kong reporter briefly threw Chinese President Hu Jintao's tightly scripted visit to the semiautonomous city off course Saturday by asking about the 1989 military crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square.
The reporter for the Apple Daily newspaper said he was detained for about 15 minutes after the incident by three to four security officers, who told him he was too noisy and had broken rules. Other reporters also shouted questions to Hu, but they weren't detained.
Hu was touring a new cruise ship terminal when the reporter shouted out a question to him from behind a security cordon.
"President Hu, have you heard that Hong Kong people hope to reverse the verdict of June 4?" the reporter, Hon Yiu-ting, asked. "Have you heard?"
Many in Hong Kong have long called for Beijing to overturn its condemnation of the weekslong 1989 pro-democracy protests that the military crushed on the night of June 3-4, killing hundreds, possibly thousands. On mainland China, dissidents, intellectuals, relatives of the victims and even ordinary citizens also have called for a reassessment of the incident, though their voices are usually muffed because of government censorship.
Hu did not respond to the reporter's question and it's not clear whether he even heard it. The encounter was shown on local television.
Saturday's incident was one small flaw in a carefully orchestrated visit by Hu that underscores the widening tensions between Hong Kong and its mainland rulers 15 years after the end of British rule. Hu is on a three-day visit to the southern Chinese financial hub to mark the handover's anniversary on Sunday.
While the visit is aimed at emphasizing strengthening ties and coincides with a raft of measures to boost Hong Kong's economy with the mainland's help, stark differences remain. Hong Kongers have grown increasingly uneasy about life under Beijing's rule and the mainland's growing influence on the territory.
A group of pro-democracy protesters scuffled with police on Saturday, with the two sides pushing and shoving on metal crowd-control barricades outside the hotel and conference center where Hu was scheduled to attend a concert. Police used pepper spray on the demonstrators, who had been corralled into a small protest zone across the street from the site. The protesters were far outnumbered by hundreds of police ringing the venue.
"We want Hu Jintao hear from us," said Lee Cheuk-yan, a pro-democracy lawmaker who helped organize the protest. The group wanted to give Hu a letter outlining their concerns about the death of Li Wangyang, a labor activist released from a Chinese prison last year whose death in June was initially labeled a suicide. Activists said years of beatings and mistreatment had taken such a toll on his body that he would not have been able to kill himself that way.
"We are demanding to investigate the truth behind his death and release his family. People in Hong Kong are very angry," said Lee.
Under Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the city is guaranteed until 2047 a high degree of autonomy and Western-style civil liberties not seen on the mainland, such as freedom of speech.
Hu's visit is also intended as a sign of support for Hong Kong's incoming leader, known as the chief executive. Pro-democracy protesters are planning to rally again Sunday outside the exhibition center, where Hu will oversee Leung Chun-ying's inauguration, but heavy security means it's unlikely he'll see them.
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