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China Blocks Any Commemoration of Tiananmen Crackdown

Agence France-Presse

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Beijing - China blanketed Tiananmen Square with police and security forces on Thursday, blocking any attempt to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the deadly crackdown on mass democracy protests.


Organizers said that about 150,000 people joined the vigil pictured above in Hong Kong. (Photo: Mike Clarke / Getty Images)

    The government again defended the decision to put down the demonstrations, which left hundreds and perhaps thousands dead, and firmly dismissed a US demand for a public accounting of the events of June 3-4, 1989.

    Tens of thousands of people crowded a park late Thursday in semi-autonomous Hong Kong for the only major commemoration of the anniversary on Chinese soil. Thousands more were expected to attend events in other cities around the world.

    Hundreds of police and security forces were deployed throughout the day in Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, where protesters rallied for weeks in 1989 for democratic reform before the army's deadly intervention.

    Police officers searched bags and even the pockets of thousands of Chinese and foreign tourists streaming through checkpoints to visit the giant plaza in the Chinese capital, and foreign journalists were barred from entering.

    "There are far more police than normal days," said a 35-year-old Chinese man who said he frequently visits the square. "It's because of June 4. It's pretty scary having so much police. There are a lot of plainclothes officers too."

    China has for days worked to prevent any public discussion or remembrance of the events by blocking access to social networking websites like Twitter, blacking out some foreign news reports and hiding away key dissidents.

    An AFP TV journalist was ordered by police to delete footage from his camera, and local tourists near the square were reluctant to discuss the crackdown -- a subject that remains taboo.

    In Hong Kong, Victoria Park was illuminated by tens of thousands of candles lit in remembrance of the victims. Organisers said 150,000 attended the vigil, while police put the figure at 62,800.

    "I'm deeply moved, it was proof that Hong Kong people still preserve their conscience," said Debby Chan, aged 28, a campaigner on behalf of mothers of the victims of the crackdown.

    "This rally will tell the world... that we still remember the Tiananmen Square democracy movement," Xiong Yan, a student leader of the 1989 protests who was surprisingly let into Hong Kong on Saturday, told AFP.

    But the government in Beijing dismissed calls for a review of the crackdown and expressed "strong dissatisfaction" with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's demand for an account of the dead and missing.

    "On the political incident that took place in the 1980s, the party and the government have already reached a conclusion," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters.

    Clinton had called on Beijing to publish victim's names, saying it would help China "learn and heal."

    From his home in exile in India, Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama also called for a review of the bloodshed and urged Beijing's leadership to "pursue a policy of greater accommodation and tolerance of diverse views."

    The events that unfolded in Tiananmen Square in 1989 played out on television screens around the world and temporarily made Beijing a pariah in the West.

    Twenty years on, the government's authority at home is intact and its global clout is greater than ever, thanks mainly to its ranking as the world's third-biggest economy.

    But activists have continued to press the government to address the crackdown.

    "The Communist Party has to acknowledge the crimes that it committed," Qi Zhiyong, 53, who lost a leg in June 1989, told AFP ahead of the anniversary, before being ordered out of sight.

    Dai Qing, a prominent Beijing-based critic of the government who spent time in jail after the crackdown, said she was heeding a call by dissidents to wear the traditional colour of mourning in a tribute to those killed on June 3-4.

    "I'm wearing white," she told AFP.

    "The use of this kind of violence on June 4 may make you think this is a powerful government, but it did not bring happiness to people."

    In Poland, German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid homage to the Tiananmen protesters in a speech marking the 20th anniversary of a landmark election there that hastened the demise of communism across Europe.

    "It's a good day to remember that June 4, 1989 also marked a great sacrifice on Tiananmen Square. This should encourage us to support all those in the world who are seeking freedom," Merkel said.