China's new Hong Kong chief a hardliner known for crusade against Christian churches

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Xia Baolong is a long-time ally of Xi Jinping who represents a sign Beijing wants to exert more control over the city

A hardliner notorious for the demolition of thousands of Christian crosses on churches has been appointed the new head of China’s office in Hong Kong, a sign that Beijing aims to further tighten control over the semi-autonomous city, analysts say.

Xia Baolong, an ally of president Xi Jinping, has been appointed director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office under the State Council, replacing Zhang Xiaoming, State media reported on Thursday. His appointment came amid a purge of officials in Hubei, the province wracked by the coronavirus outbreak.

Zhang has become the most senior Beijing-appointed official to lose his job in the wake of months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong. The city has been roiled by more than seven months of protests over an extradition bill that would have allowed suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.

Related: Coronavirus: China purges regional leaders hours after spike in deaths and new cases

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