Thousands of Hong Kongers joined a parade Wednesday of Chinese dragon dancers and children garbed in opera costumes as the territory marked the 12th anniversary of its return to China.
The parade kicked off shortly after Hong Kong and Chinese flags were raised in an early morning ceremony beside the territory's famed Victoria Harbor that drew hundreds of officials and onlookers.
"It is time for celebration, not a time for discontent," said Ko Po-chun, 49, after watching Hong Kong singers and Chinese soldiers' martial arts performance.
With nods to traditional Chinese culture, both events were meant to emphasize unity with the mainland.
But they contrasted sharply with a street protest later in the day expected to draw tens of thousands of Hong Kongers calling for democracy.
Since its handover to China on July 1, 1997 _ after 156 years of British rule _ Hong Kong has largely retained its Western-style civil liberties, including press freedom and the right to hold public protests. But its people still cannot directly elect the city's chief executive or all legislative members.
The annual march has become a public forum to urge for democratic forms and vent dissatisfaction with government policies.
While last year's turnout was relatively low because of the Olympics and a still-strong economy, organizers say as many as 100,000 people could show up for Wednesday's march.
Hong Kong's slumping economy and rising unemployment is stoking anger.
This year, hundreds of civil servants and government contract workers are set to protest as organized groups for the first time to demand better work conditions and pay _ signs of public frustration that experts say could alarm Beijing.
"We're very angry with the contract terms that we're having," said Tse Tin-wing, chairman of an association of contract postal workers. "We have no choice but take to the street to express our anger."