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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

China's president has sworn in a new leader for Hong Kong, amid large public protests. The island is marking the 15th anniversary of its return to Chinese sovereignty, and surveys show the highest level of mistrust towards China since the handover.

NPR's Louisa Lim has this report from Hong Kong.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the flag-raising ceremony...

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: The morning began with the pomp of a flag-raising ceremony, and a fly-past by helicopters bearing the Hong Kong and national Chinese flags. Then Hong Kong's new leader, self-made millionaire Leung Chun-ying, took his oath of office.

LEUNG CHUN-YING: (Mandarin spoken)

LIM: He gave his inaugural speech in Mandarin, the official language of China's Communist rulers, which is not spoken by most locals here.

LEUNG: (Through Translator) I will honor the pledges I have made to uphold justice, protect the rights of people, safeguard the rule of law, clean government, freedom and democracy which are Hong Kong's core values.

HU JINTAO: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: For his part, China's President Hu Jintao warned against interference in Hong Kong's affairs by foreign forces. His trip has been highly stage-managed. One of the only spontaneous moments happened when a local reporter pressed him on the bloodshed of June 4th, 1989.

President Hu, he shouted out, have you heard Hong Kong people hope for a reappraisal of June the Fourth. Have you heard? There was no answer.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING PROTESTERS)

LIM: But Hong Kong's public wants to be heard. There's anger at the swelling wealth gap and fear at China's growing influence. According to one survey, almost two-thirds think Hong Kong has become a worse place since the handover 15 years ago. At a huge protest, groups of young people wave flags dating back from Hong Kong's period as a British colony.

Twenty year old Marco Wong has wrapped himself in one.

MARCO WONG: This flags represents what we want. This is not an ultimate goal, you know, going back to being British. However, what we missed out, we want it back.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: Not all feel this way. But many are calling for the resignation of new leader, Leung Chun-ying. He was chosen, after a scandal involving an illegally built basement in his main contender's house. Leung promised he himself had followed the law, but it's now emerged he has not one, but six illegal structures in his $64 million house. He's a surveyor by trade. And many, like 20-year old Mei Tong, are livid.

MEI TONG: I think he's a liar. He's a liar. That's all.

(LAUGHTER)

LIM: Legislator Albert Ho, from the Democratic Party, is trying to mount a court challenge against Leung. Ho himself competed for the top job and says he has a responsibility to act.

ALBERT HO: That is the spirit of Hong Kong and Hong Kong people. We must have the courage to speak truth to power. One day, if we are found to have lost such courage, the value of Hong Kong could no longer be protected.

LIM: And today was an outpouring of emotion. The hurly-burly of Hong Kong's street politics stands in stark contrast to the highly controlled program followed by China's president. As tens of thousands march through the streets in protest, the plaintive message is clear: Mr. President, are you hearing our voices now?

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Hong Kong.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: And you're listening to NPR News.

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