Hong Kong police on Saturday banned a major demonstration against China's planned national security law for the city that critics fear would smother the financial hub's treasured freedoms, organisers said.
The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) said the force had rejected its applications for rallies on July 1 -- the 23rd anniversary of the former British colony's handover to China.
It is the first time the annual march has been banned since the CHRF began them in 2003, when half a million people came out to protest against the local government's attempt to introduce a national security law.
That bill was shelved, but Beijing has decided to impose a new security law in the city, claiming Hong Kong protesters were involved in separatism.
Police cited a risk of violence for the decision and said the gatherings and march would "pose a severe threat to public health" due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pro-democracy CHRF, which was responsible for some of last year's unprecedented million-people demonstrations, said it would appeal the decision.
Hong Kong has recently relaxed social distancing measures, allowing public gatherings of up to 50 people. Theme parks and swimming pools have also reopened.
The semi-autonomous city has been convulsed by a year of huge and often violent rallies that began with an eventually aborted criminal extradition bill but morphed into a popular call for democracy and police accountability.
In May, Beijing announced a draft national security law -- which will bypass Hong Kong's legislature -- to tackle "terrorism" and "separatism" in a restless city it now regards as a direct national security threat.
The law would enforce punishment for subversion and other offences in Hong Kong, but critics see it as potential knock-out blow for freedoms and autonomy enjoyed by the city.
US President Donald Trump's administration said Friday it was restricting visas for a number of Chinese officials for infringing on the autonomy of Hong Kong, as Congress seeks tougher sanctions.
The Chinese embassy in Washington said "no one has any legal grounds or right to make irresponsible comments on Hong Kong affairs".
The EU also warned China it would face "very negative consequences" if it pressed ahead with the new bill.
The law is expected to be voted on during a National People's Congress Standing Committee meeting to be held from Sunday to Tuesday.