Umbrellas and pro-democracy activists were unwelcome in Macau on Friday as Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the former Portuguese enclave to mark the 15th anniversary of its return to rule by Beijing.
Journalists and visitors waiting at the Macau International Airport were provided with raincoats and asked not to hold umbrellas as Xi landed, across the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong, where more than 10 weeks of pro-democracy protests have recently ended.
Umbrellas, yellow ones in particular, became the symbol of the Occupy Central movement for fully democratic elections in 2017 after protesters used them to ward off tear gas and pepper spray attacks from riot police on Sept. 28, bringing hundreds of thousands of citizens out onto the streets in the days that followed.
Activists colored in yellow a publicity photo of Xi holding an umbrella on an official visit last year, and the resulting cardboard cut-out became a key feature of the democracy movement's "Umbrella Square" on a main highway near government offices in Admiralty district.
A handful of activists, including some of those involved in launching the Occupy Central movement, tried to approach Xi's accommodation in Macau holding yellow umbrellas, while 14 others were turned away at the city's border with umbrellas and banners calling for universal suffrage.
The group, led by League of Social Democrats chairman and lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, known by his nickname "Long Hair," raised their yellow umbrellas on arrival at the Macau ferry terminal, but were denied entry on the basis of "strong evidence" that they would affect public safety in the city.
"Of course we wanted to take our protest to Macau; it's up to them whether or not they let us in," Leung told RFA. "But we have the right to express our opinions."
Leung said it wasn't the first time that Occupy activists had been denied entry to the city, however.
"During the Umbrella Movement of the past two months, a lot of people have been denied entry by Macau police," he said. "But it seems as if Macau's blacklist is having its greatest effect now that such a powerful personage as Xi Jinping is visiting."
Democratic lawmaker Au Kam San, one of just three pro-democracy legislators in the city, said the Macau government is clearly nervous.
"Naturally, the little bosses are going to get nervous when the big boss is in town," Au said. "Macau is a tiny place, and they have sealed off all the roads around the places Xi will visit."
"They are clear of cars on both sides, which is pretty inconvenient for Macau," he said.
Fellow Macau pro-democracy activist Sujia Hao said he is currently being followed by unidentified people, and his phone line is being monitored during Xi's visit.
"This began last Friday, and I told the media about it, and I didn't see it for a couple of days after that ... but of course it's happening today," Hao told RFA.
Four reporters with the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper were also prevented from entering Macau.
Xi arrived on an Air China flight with his wife Peng Liyuan to be greeted by flag-waving schoolchildren and local officials, including Macau chief executive Fernando Chui.
Xi, who is making his first visit to the gambling hub, and who will attend Chui's inauguration on Saturday, threw his support behind embattled Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying, praising his handling of the Occupy Central protests, the last of which were cleared by police earlier this week.
"The central government will, as always, support you and the [Hong Kong] government in your work," Xi told Leung in Macau, in comments reported by Xinhua News Agency.
Over the past couple of months, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) government and its police force have fulfilled their duty with courage, which resulted in improvement in the current situation in Hong Kong, Xi was quoted as saying.
"The central government has full trust in you and the SAR government, and highly recognizes your work," he told Leung.
Leung's administration and Beijing officials have hit out at Hong Kong's Occupy movement as "illegal," and a threat to the rule of law in the former British colony, which was promised a high degree of autonomy under the terms of its 1997 handover. Macau was handed back by Portugal in 1999.
The Occupy movement has campaigned for Beijing to withdraw its electoral reform plan, which it says is "fake universal suffrage," and allow publicly nominated candidates to run for chief executive in 2017.
An Aug. 31 decision by China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), decreed that all 5 million of Hong Kong's voters will cast ballots in the 2017 poll, but may only choose between two or three candidates vetted by a Beijing-backed election committee.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party has also criticized international support for the Occupy Central protests, saying that the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration is "void" and that China answers to no one in exercising sovereignty over Hong Kong.
Speaking in Macau, Xi said political reforms in Hong Kong should be "handled according to law."
In a five-minute speech on his arrival in Macau, Xi said the "one country, two systems" formula used to take back Macau and Hong Kong was working well.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.