HONG KONG — Hong Kong authorities rolled out a massive security operation on Tuesday as they braced for protests during a top Beijing official's visit to the semiautonomous city, where tensions are rising over Chinese rule.
Thousands of police officers were deployed as Zhang Dejiang, China's third-highest-ranking Communist Party official, began his three-day "inspection visit" to the former British colony. Zhang, chairman of the National People's Congress, China's ceremonial parliament, is the most senior Chinese official to visit Hong Kong since then-President Hu Jintao came in 2012.
The stepped-up security, including officers keeping watch on a mountain peak far from the city center, reflects official unease about possible disruptions as Hong Kong's political atmosphere grows increasingly turbulent.
Discontent over Beijing's tightening grip on Hong Kong has risen since pro-democracy street protests rocked the Asian financial hub in late 2014, and calls for independence from radical political groups have become commonplace.
After arriving at the airport, Zhang, who's also the Chinese official in charge of Hong Kong affairs, touched on the city's fraying ties with the mainland, saying he would listen to "suggestions and requests from various sectors of society on ... the development of the country and Hong Kong."
Zhang is scheduled to deliver a speech at a business conference Wednesday morning. He's also expected to hold a rare meeting with four pro-democracy lawmakers, who said they would urge him to get rid of the city's unpopular Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, and revive political reform efforts.
Around 6,000 police officers are on duty for Zhang's visit, the South China Morning Post reported. Officers were even dispatched to the summit of Lion Rock, one of Hong Kong's tallest peaks, the Apple Daily newspaper said. However, they failed to prevent activists from unfurling a pro-democracy banner lower down the mountainside.
Police set up hundreds of plastic water-filled safety barriers on the streets surrounding the downtown convention center where Zhang will speak and the hotel next door where he's staying.
In another sign of official nervousness over the visit, authorities glued together sidewalk paving stones to prevent them from being ripped up and hurled by protesters. Pavers were thrown during a February riot involving a pro-independence group that left 90 people injured.
Police in the neighboring mainland city of Shenzhen arrested a Hong Kong man involved in a plot to use a drone to disrupt Zhang's visit, China's official Xinhua news agency reported Sunday.