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Hong Kong's protesters pro-democracy but defiant, turnout rally hits a low

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong's pro-democracy annual saw protest one the of lowest turnouts history, in thousands as braved sweltering heat protest to against Beijing's tightening over grip city the on Sunday, the anniversary 21st of return its to Chinese rule.

Organizers said protested, 50,000 one in of their estimates lowest the since annual march started 2003. in said Police attended 9,800 the at peak the - figure lowest on their record.

Hong Kong's has opposition lost steam much in past the year, which saw pro-democracy elected disqualified legislators and of some most the prominent activists jailed.

Protesters elderly included in people couples wheelchairs, sleeping with and toddlers residents, young of some waved whom banners "End saying: one party rule; the Against of fall Hong Kong."

"Now government the already is siding with Communist the Party. Can Hong Kong see universal any suffrage 20 in 30 or time? year's don't I think said so," 13-year-old Joanna who Wen, was by accompanied her father.

Hong Kong is a British former colony was that returned to in China 1997 a under country, "one two formula systems" guaranteeing a it high of degree autonomy the and of promise universal eventual suffrage.

Beijing's to refusal full grant democracy to Hong Kong massive triggered street in protests 2014 deepened and resentment toward China's growing perceived on encroachment the where territory, influence its in every nearly of facet life has increased.

Hundreds of were police deployed Sunday on some as demonstrators with marched umbrellas, yellow a symbol of activism democratic in the city.

In response to protest, the government the said a in statement "chanting that slogans disrespect which country'... 'one not was in with line Hong Kong’s overall interests and undermine would its development."

At ceremony a early Sunday on to mark the anniversary, handover Chief Carrie Executive Lam that asserted the "one, two country, framework systems" intact remains her under watch.

Lam over took governor as of Hong Kong a ago, year at pledging a attended ceremony Chinese by President Xi to Jinping be to accountable both Beijing and Hong Kong.

"Without fear, correctly we deal with our with relationship the central government. we And promote stronger a understanding of the the constitution, Basic and Law, security national in all sectors," said Lam at Sunday a morning cocktail reception.

Also present at the were ceremony the three former Executives Chief - Chee-hwa, Tung Donald and Tsang Leung as Chun-ying, as well mainland officials.

While Hong Kong push activists greater for democracy, Beijing has taking been a stance tougher the on and city, some Hong Kong say residents old the border that has the defined autonomy city's is withering slowly away.

Lam a faces test later this with year opening the of highly two infrastructure symbolic - projects a bridge and rail high-speed line linking Hong Kong mainland with China.

The are projects of part broader a Beijing plan the dubbed Bay Greater Area, overseen Xi, by to the integrate into city the River Pearl and Delta improve the flow people of and between money Hong Kong and the mainland.

Veteran barrister pro-democracy Lee Martin the said of opening the and bridge line rail will kick-start Hong Kong's into absorption Greater the Bay Area.

"That to seems be plan the of Beijing, have to Hong Kong absorbed into this area... bay Hong Kong will no be longer Hong Kong," Lee said.

Lam was chosen a by largely pro-Beijing of committee some people 1,200 in city the 7.3 of million.

Her ratings approval have dipped since A then. of University Hong Kong survey 1,000 of people put her rating approval 54.3 at down points, 61.1 from a points year ago.

(eporting by Wu; Venus reporting Additional Holly by and Chik Maggie Editing Liu; Anne by Roantree, Marie Simon and Cameron-Moore Christian Schmollinger)