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Record crowds expected at Tiananmen vigil in Hong Kong

AFP

Up to 200,000 people are expected on Wednesday to take part in a candle-lit vigil in Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, an event China wishes to wipe from public memory.

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The vigil is expected to draw unprecedented numbers including a large cohort of mainland Chinese, as Hong Kong is the only place in China where the Tiananmen anniversary can be commemorated openly.

"In mainland China, these events don't exist. That's why I came here. You can only see this in Hong Kong,” mainland resident Chenggong told FRANCE 24 after having crossed the border into the former British colony. Since returning to Chinese rule in 1997, Hong Kong has retained a level of civil liberty far greater than the mainland under the "One Country, Two Systems" policy, which guarantees the city's semi-autonomous status.

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Hundreds of people – by some estimates, more than a thousand – died after the Communist Party sent in tanks to crush demonstrations in the square at the heart of Beijing, where student-led protesters had staged a peaceful seven-week sit-in to demand democratic reforms.

In mainland China, however, many still remain ignorant of the events of 25 years ago as public discussion of Tiananmen is forbidden and online references to it heavily censored.

Nevertheless, police and paramilitary officers have been sited patrolling central Beijing's Tiananmen Square Wednesday, also visibly stepping up their presence in other areas of the city. Dozens of activists and critics have also already been detained by police. Foreign journalists have reportedly been removed from the square, while passers-by were searched and had their papers checked.

The Chinese authorities view the 1989 protests as counter-revolutionary riots and therefore do not mark the date.

Chinese youth 'unaware'

A third of China's population was born after the the events in the square, while many who lived through it are hesitant to broach the sensitive topic.

Historians and analysts say that young Chinese in particular are largely unaware of the incident, adding to the significance of the annual vigil in Hong Kong.

"There is a distinct danger that they don't know enough (about the incident) and they may not be very interested," Joseph Cheng said, a professor of political science at City University of Hong Kong.

"Tens of hundreds of thousands of people in Hong Kong can challenge the authority, to condemn the massacre. I think it is very significant that we can speak out for the voices inside China," Lee Cheuk-yan said.

Lee, who was at the Beijing Hotel overlooking the square during the crackdown, described it as the "darkest hour" of his life.

"When I saw Tiananmen Square, I remember the moment when the lights of the whole square suddenly switched off and it was total darkness, and then you hear gunshots," Lee said.

"At that moment I would describe it as the darkest hour of my life, when you believe that thousands of students are being suppressed by the soldiers and you don't know what happened to them, and whether they will be killed."

The world's first museum commemorating the victims of the crackdown opened in Hong Kong in April in the lead-up to the anniversary.

The 800-square-foot venue features video clips and photographs and a two-metre tall statue of the Goddess of Democracy, similar to one erected at Tiananmen Square during the 1989 protests.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

 

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