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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - MACAU - Chinese president Xi Jinping landed in Macau on Wednesday as the city prepares to mark 20 years since the former Portuguese colony was returned, a celebration that stands in stark contrast to months of unrest in neighboring Hong Kong.
Security has been ramped up ahead of Xi's three-day visit which culminates on Friday's anniversary.
China's authoritarian leadership is keen to showcase Macau as a successful example of its "one country, two systems" model, with party leaders heaping praise on a pliant city of 700,000 that has grown rich on gambling and deference to authoritarian rule.
"The Chinese people and the central government are proud of the achievements and progress Macau has made in the past 20 years since its return to the motherland," Xi said on arrival at the city's airport, a troupe of school children waving Chinese and Macau flags behind him.
Since the 1999 handover by Lisbon, Macau has witnessed little of the dissent that has exploded in Hong Kong during six months of often violent pro-democracy protests as large chunks of the population seethes under Beijing's rule.
Like Hong Kong it maintains its own currency, judiciary and free market. But it has long since passed mainland style anti-sedition laws that have been successfully resisted by Hong Kongers.
Limited details have been released by authorities on Xi's schedule.
He will meet local leaders and attend a dinner and a cultural performance on Thursday. The following day Xi will preside over the inauguration of the city's new leader Ho Iat-seng.
A former member of China's top lawmaking body, Ho won a one-horse race this summer to become chief executive -- a position that is chosen by a 400-member committee stacked with Beijing loyalists.
Bunting and banners hailing the anniversary were erected across the city, including on some of the casinos that serve as the territory's lifeblood.
Security has been dramatically tightened ahead of Xi's visit.
Police set up checkpoints and extra screenings for passenger arrivals while authorities said some major roads would see closures.
The city's first light rail line announced it would shut down for the duration, just a week after it was first opened to the public while the airport said some flights would be rescheduled.
Security checks were also ramped up in Hong Kong's ferry terminals and on a huge bridge and tunnel system linking the two cities.
Since last week police from mainland China have been manning a newly created checkpoint on an artificial island that links the bridge and tunnel system between Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai, the first time they have done so.
Multiple journalists with Hong Kong passports working for local and international media have been denied entry to Macau in the run up to the anniversary while a group of pro-democracy lawmakers were denied permission to board a ferry on Wednesday.
Earlier this month the president and chairman of Hong Kong's American Chamber of Commerce were also denied entry to Macau without explanation. -AFP
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