Military parade for Xi in HK

A junk boat sails past the International Commerce Centre left and other buildings in Hong Kong China

Anthony Kwan | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Xi's remarks came after Carrie Lam, 60, was sworn-in as Hong Kong's new Chief Executive, who became the territory's first female leader.

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Saturday that any activities in Hong Kong seen as threatening China's sovereignty and stability would be "absolutely impermissible", employing some of his harshest language yet against burgeoning separatist sentiment in the territory.

Police blocked roads, preventing pro-democracy protesters from getting to the harbour-front venue close to where the last colonial governor, Chris Patten, tearfully handed back Hong Kong to China in the pouring rain in 1997. The protesters, including activist Joshua Wong, a leader of Hong Kong's pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, managed to obscure the statue from view.

However, Yu said he is celebrating the 20 years since the Hong Kong handover because much of the racism around the migration has at least been recognized.

Democracy campaigners were taken away in police vans and released soon after.

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For Hong Kong, the focus is not whether the principle will change or not, but how to implement it comprehensively and accurately, Xi stressed.

Around 10 Demosisto activists said they were threatened in a separate incident by a policeman who said he would use his gun if they didn't stop "causing an obstruction" by handing out leaflets to passers-by.

Beijing's refusal to grant universal suffrage to Hong Kong triggered almost three months of street protests in 2014 and growing calls for independence for the city, in what many observers see as the most tumultuous post-handover period seen in Hong Kong.

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong, a former colony of Britain, being returned to China.

Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee, one of five publishers of salacious titles about Beijing leaders who went missing in 2015 and resurfaced in detention on the mainland, joined the rally.

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Strolling through Vancouver's Kerrisdale neighbourhood, historian Henry Yu reflects on how immigrants from Hong Kong have helped shape the city over the past two decades.

Some protesters carried a cardboard model of a toilet picturing Leung's face on the lid and Lam's face in the bowl, covered with excrement.

President Xi Jinping adopted a speak-softly-but-carry-a-big-stick approach yesterday, offering a chance for dissenters to be engaged but also warning that those who threatened national sovereignty would not be tolerated - and those who heard him took note.

"As we capitalise on our strengths and harness the opportunities presented by our country's development, Hong Kong's future is indeed bright and promising", Lam added.

There is growing concern that the Chinese central government is undermining Hong Kong's more politically liberal traditions, despite its promise to give it a high degree of autonomy.

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However, surveys have shown that people in Hong Kong are beginning to reject the notion that they are both Hong Kongers and Chinese, and identification among young Hong Kongers is becoming stronger, he said. The key themes of the protests were reclaim Hong Kong and release of Liu Xiaobo, the jailed Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace prize victor who was recently diagnosed with cancer. "It used to be that you got out of college in Hong Kong, you were an invaluable resource because you had some sort of Mandarin skills, you spoke English and you were trained in finance, and you had no competition", says Andrew Collier, managing director of Orient Capital, and author of Shadow Banking and the Rise of Capitalism in China. They were swiftly stopped by police and Chinese flag-waving counter protesters, with the action ending about an hour later.

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