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Independence banners hung at Hong Kong universities in defiance of China - media

A banner which reads ''Hong Kong Independence'' is displayed at the University of Hong Kong on China's National Day in Hong Kong, China October 1, 2016. REUTERS/Apple Daily

HONG KONG Around a dozen Hong Kong universities draped large banners calling for the city's independence on China's National Day, defying authorities with demands for the Chinese controlled territory to split with mainland China.

Large banners reading "Hong Kong independence" were strung up across the financial city on Saturday, local broadcaster RTHK reported.

The statement said it was not clear who put up the large red and white banners but before lunchtime, the banners at Baptist University and City University in Kowloon Tong had already been removed.

Schools in the special administrative region are becoming a new battleground in a nascent campaign for the city's independence.

The free-wheeling business hub has been on edge over the past couple of years over a campaign by some residents to preserve and promote their city's freedoms in the face of what they see as a bid by Beijing to curb them.

The former British territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" pact meant to safeguard its ways but the refusal of Beijing to give ground on a demand for full democracy has sapped many people's faith in the formula.

Debate on independence was once unheard of in Hong Kong and for most residents it remains a youthful dream rather than a serious proposal that Beijing will ever consider.

But the fact that it is being debated illustrates what many in the city consider a sea change brought about by 79 days of student-led pro-democracy protests in 2014.

Since then, many city residents have decried what they see as increasing Beijing interference in various sectors to stifle dissent, including in schools.

(Reporting by Farah Master and Joyce Zhou; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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