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The police chief and security officials sat stone-faced throughout. The police chief did not react when one lawmaker threw a pro-democracy T-shirt at him.

Neither the government, the police chief nor the senior civil servant in charge of security has apologized to the public - a sign of the priority Hong Kong’s leaders place on loyalty to Beijing.

“The general public’s impression is that the order for this extra caution must have come from Beijing,” said Willy Lam, a veteran China watcher and adjunct professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

People in the pro-democracy camp are especially incensed about two incidents during Mr. Li’s visit. At a stop at a block of apartments, plainclothes officers responsible for VIP protection hauled away a local resident who got too close to a security zone.

The man was wearing a T-shirt with a slogan calling for Beijing to overturn its condemnation of the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square that the military went on to crush. A local cable news channel also complained that a security officer prevented its cameraman from filming the activity.

At Hong Kong University - which is admired as a liberal bastion of free inquiry - police allegedly dragged three student protesters to the ground and detained one for an hour in a stairwell while Mr. Li was attending an anniversary ceremony.

Other students and alumni were hemmed in by security and kept away from the event.

Video footage of the encounters have been played repeatedly on local news channels.

A group of academics took out ads in several newspapers demanding the government apologize, while the university’s student union said the visit “marked one of the darkest days for the breach of our highly regarded freedom of speech, liberty and human rights.”

The university’s president later apologized, saying school officials were “taken aback by the scale of police mobilized on the date of the event.”

The tight security is being seen as a sign of things to come as the Chinese leadership prepares for a transition to a new generation of leaders next year amid fears of unrest similar to the popular revolts that have swept the Middle East and North Africa.

“People are afraid things might turn even worse later on, that the balance between one country and two systems has been upset to the favor of one country and that means the priority of Beijing is now overriding Hong Kong’s traditional core values of freedom of expression and so forth,” said Mr. Lam, the commentator.