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Thousands turn out for Tiananmen candelight vigil in Hong Kong

© AFP. Crowds gather in Hong Kong to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-06-04

Security was tight in the Chinese capital Beijing on Wednesday for the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, while tens of thousands gathered in Hong Kong to attend commemoration ceremonies marking the deadly crackdown.

Massive crowds convened in downtown Hong Kong for a candlelight vigil to remember the victims at Victoria Park. Organisers said they expected as many as 150,000 people to participate.

Several governments, including the United States, urged China to account for what happened on June 4, 1989, when troops killed hundreds of protesters seeking greater democracy at Tiananmen Square. The comments riled China, which has maintained that the protest movement was “counter-revolutionary”. Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama used the anniversary to call on China to embrace democracy.

The Chinese government has tightened security both on the Internet and mainland China, in a bid to suppress the commemorations. On Wednesday, police, soldiers and plainclothes security personnel flooded Tiananmen Square, checking identity cards and rummaging through bags looking for any hint that people might try and sneak onto the square to commemorate the day.

>>> Also on FRANCE 24: Famed activist says China fears fresh 'Tiananmen' protests <<<

Public discussion of the crackdown is off-limits in China. Many young people are unaware of what happened, because of years of government efforts to banish memories of the People’s Liberation Army shooting its own citizens.

Despite this, a large number of mainland Chinese were expected to travel to Hong Kong to take part in the candlelight vigil. A former British colony, Hong Kong was restored to China in 1997, but has remained a free-wheeling, capitalist hub. The vigil has been held in the city every year since the massacre took place.

Protests quickly spiralled

China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday defended the crackdown, saying the government had chosen the correct path for the sake of the people.

The protests began in April 1989 as a demonstration by university students in Beijing to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, the reformist Communist Party chief who had been ousted by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. The protests grew into broader demands for an end to corruption as well as calls for democracy.

The Chinese government never released a death toll for the crackdown, but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.

Many Chinese would balk at the idea of mass revolution today. China is now the world’s second biggest economy, with most Chinese enjoying individual and economic freedoms never accorded them before.

“I don’t think it can happen again,” said a Beijing resident who gave his family name as Xu. “China’s system is certainly different from the West. The population is huge, 1.4 billion people. If you want to govern it well, it’s not easy.”

But Wu’er Kaixi, a leading figure in the pro-democracy movement of 1989, said Chinese people could rise up once more against the Communist Party in anger at anything from endemic graft to the country’s badly polluted air, water and soil.

“Yes, you gave us economic freedom, but you are jumping in and looting us, robbing us of our future, corrupting the culture, our values and the environment,” Wu’er Kaixi told Reuters ahead of the anniversary from Taiwan, where he works at an investment firm.

“All this has been clearly and widely expressed by Chinese people in the last two decades. This discontent will emerge into one thing one day: a revolution. I am sure the Communist Party is very well aware of this.”

International criticism

Rights group Amnesty International has said at least 66 people had been detained in the period leading up to the anniversary.

That includes prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and four other activists who were detained last month after attending a private meeting at an apartment in Beijing to discuss the crackdown, prompting concern in the United States and Europe.

The White House said in a statement that the United States continued to honour the memories of those who gave their lives on June 4, and called for a full account of what happened.

In democratic Taiwan, which China claims as its own, President Ma Ying-jeou said China should ensure that a “tragedy” like June 4 never happened again.

“If Chinese authorities can tolerate differences, not only can that raise the height and the legitimacy of those in power, but also send a clear message to Taiwan that political reform in China is serious,” Ma said in a statement.

Japan, engaged in a bitter territorial dispute with China, used the anniversary to urge Beijing to respect human rights and the rule of law.

United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay on Tuesday called on China to reveal the truth about what had happened 25 years ago.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei expressed anger at the comments from the United States and the United Nations, saying they interfered in China’s internal affairs.

In a daily news briefing, he also said the Dalai Lama had “ulterior motives” for his Tiananmen comments.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-06-04

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