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Story highlights

Ex-"Umbrella Movement" leader Joshua Wong arrested ahead of Chinese leader's arrival

President Xi Jinping to visit Hong Kong as city marks 20 years under Chinese rule

(CNN) —  

Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive in Hong Kong amid unprecedented security Thursday, his first official visit as leader, as the city marks 20 years of Chinese rule on Saturday.

Xi’s plane is expected to touch down at noon local time, and he will then drive into the city in a heavily protected motorcade.

Protests broke out late Wednesday ahead of Xi’s highly choreographed visit, with activists storming Golden Bauhinia Square – the site of an official flag-raising ceremony later this week – and occupying it for several hours before police removed them.

The protesters were led by former “Umbrella Movement” leaders Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, both of whom were carried off the square by police and arrested on public nuisance offenses.

Hong Kong handover: Full coverage

Activist Joshua Wong is arrested Wednesday in Hong Kong's Golden Bauhinia Square.
Joshua Berlinger/CNN
Activist Joshua Wong is arrested Wednesday in Hong Kong's Golden Bauhinia Square.

Standoff at square

Around two dozen protesters marched on Golden Bauhinia Square – the site of a large gold statue of a Bauhinia flower bequeathed to the city by Beijing – at 5:30 p.m. as crowds of bemused tourists watched.

Pro-democracy protesters storm Golden Bauhinia Square in central Hong Kong on Wednesday.
James Griffiths/CNN
Pro-democracy protesters storm Golden Bauhinia Square in central Hong Kong on Wednesday.

The protesters chained themselves to the statue and unfurled a banner calling for justice for Liu Xiaobo – the imprisoned Chinese Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist who was released on medical parole this week – and greater democracy for Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong people will continue to fight for democracy until the day we get our rights,” said Wong, who later joined other protesters in chants of “the world is watching, only Xi Jinping cannot see.”

The gold statue of a Bauhinia flower -- a symbol of Hong Kong -- was a gift to the city from China.
James Griffiths/CNN
The gold statue of a Bauhinia flower -- a symbol of Hong Kong -- was a gift to the city from China.

After three hours of standoff, police carefully cleared ornamental plant pots from around the statue and then read protesters their rights individually before carrying them off. Several protesters had to be removed from the top of the statue via a fire truck cherry picker.

Demosisto, the political party of Law and Wong, said all its activists had been arrested on public nuisance offenses after they repeatedly ignored police requests to leave the square.

Huge security operation

Much of Wan Chai, a bustling business district in the city center where Xi will stay, is on partial lockdown, with 300, 2-ton barricades erected on roads around the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The venue will host many events marking the city’s handover from the UK to China.

Around 11,000 of the city’s 29,000 police officers will be involved in security arrangements for Xi’s visit, according to the South China Morning Post.

Huge barriers have been erected in central Hong Kong ahead of a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Huge barriers have been erected in central Hong Kong ahead of a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

During a visit last year by Zhang Dejiang, the third-highest ranked Chinese leader, sidewalks were glued down in key areas to prevent protesters from breaking them up and using them as missiles.

Local media reported this week that police were under instructions to prevent banners and signs that might “embarrass” Xi from appearing within his eyesight.

Barriers were also briefly erected around a statue of Queen Victoria in a central Hong Kong park named for the long-reigning British monarch, but they were removed after complaints.

Events and celebrations

While in Hong Kong, Xi will spend little time anywhere near the public.

On Thursday evening, he is expected to have dinner with Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung and his successor, Carrie Lam, whom Xi will swear in on Saturday.

Xi is also expected to visit a People’s Liberation Army base. China’s military has always had a major presence in Hong Kong since the handover, but it has kept a low profile until recently.

An elaborate celebratory gala will be held Friday evening at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, attended by Xi, Leung, Lam and other dignitaries.

Protests are expected outside the event, and at a separate rally by pro-Hong Kong independence activists, who have called for their supporters to gather together and “crush Chinese colonialism.”

Xi will leave the city on Saturday after swearing in Lam and attending a flag-raising ceremony to mark the 20 years since China assumed sovereignty over Hong Kong.

Attention will then turn to the annual July 1 pro-democracy march, which organizers expect to attract hundreds of thousands of people.

CNN’s Joshua Berlinger contributed to this report.