Hong Kong Marks 16th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square Crackdown

From Associated Press

Los Angeles Times

June 4, 2005

HONG KONG — Tens of thousands of Hong Kong protesters raised candles in the air and sang solemn songs today as they marked the 16th anniversary of China's bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations.

In Beijing, security was tight and there were no signs of public commemorations on the giant square, where the 1989 student-led protests ended when soldiers and tanks attacked, killing hundreds of people.

China's Communist Party has eased many of the social controls that spurred the student-led Tiananmen protests, but the government still crushes protests against the event -- or any activity that it worries might threaten its monopoly on power.

But in other cities, some tried to keep the memory of the brutal crackdown alive.

In Hong Kong, people holding candles filled up an area the size of five soccer fields at Victoria Park -- the only large-scale protest on Chinese soil. Police estimated that 22,000 people attended the annual vigil, but organizers said the crowd numbered 30,000 to 40,000.

Many residents of the former British colony remain emotional about Tiananmen because the crackdown happened just a few years before the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

"My heart is heavy," said Shum Ming, 58, a construction worker. "Hong Kong people will not forget this history when a government uses guns and tanks to crush students. It's very atrocious."

Protester Henry Ho, 19, a Hong Kong University student, said, "If the Chinese government can say what happened that night and can say that they're sorry, it can show that they are not the same government from the past."

Many feel a duty to speak out because they have freedoms of speech and assembly that don't exist on the mainland. Hong Kong is ruled under a "one country, two systems" formula that promises the city a wide-degree of autonomy.

Banners and signs said, "Don't forget June 4," "Democracy fighters live forever," and "Using history as proof."

Vigil organizer Lee Cheuk-yan, vice chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance, said, "Our slogan is 'Recognize history' and we're asking Beijing to do just that."

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that 16 years after the "brutal and tragic events," as many as 250 Chinese still languish in prison for Tiananmen-related activities.

"We call on the Chinese Government to fully account for the thousands killed, detained, or missing, and to release those unjustly imprisoned," McCormack said in a statement.

"It is now time for the Chinese Government to move forward with a reexamination of Tiananmen, and give its citizens the ability to flourish by allowing them to think, speak, assemble and worship freely. We continue to urge China to bring its human rights practices into conformity with international standards and law."

Donald Tsang, the front-runner campaigning to become Hong Kong's next leader, on today urged the public to be rational about the event, saying China has made great strides in improving its economy and people's livelihood.

"I had shared Hong Kong people's passion and impetus when the June 4 incident happened. But after 16 years, I've seen our country's impressive economic and social development," Tsang said. "My feelings have become calmer."

In Australia, a senior Chinese diplomat who abandoned his post and is seeking political asylum came out of hiding today to speak at a Sydney rally to observe the anniversary.

Chen Yonglin, 37, the consul for political affairs at the Chinese consulate-general in Sydney, said he was defecting because of a lack of freedoms in China.

"In 16 years, the Chinese government has done nothing for political reform," he said. "People have no political freedom, no human rights."

Chen claimed he still was being chased by Chinese security agents and feared they might kidnap him.

"They have successfully been kidnapping people in Australia back to China. I want to ask if the Australian government is aware of such cases. If they are aware, so the government is cooperating with terrorists," Chen said.

Mick Spinx, a media spokesman for the Australian Federal Police, said federal police have not been asked by Australia's government, or any other party, to be involved in the case.

Neither Australia's foreign ministry nor the Chinese Embassy in Australia could immediately be reached for comment.

In Beijing today, the government tightened security -- as it usually does around June 4 -- at Tiananmen Square, where tourists were watched by extra carloads of police and paramilitary troops. There was no hint of public mention of the event.

The anniversary, always sensitive for communist leaders, is especially touchy this year because it is the first since the death in January of Zhao Ziyang, the former Communist Party boss who was purged in 1989 after sympathizing with the protesters.

A retired senior Chinese official, Li Pu, also called on Beijing to vindicate the 1989 pro-democracy movement, which was branded a "counterrevolutionary riot" by the Communist leadership.

"The students made big mistakes, but the government's military crackdown was even worse. It was extremely wrong to send troops against ordinary people," Li, former vice president of China's official Xinhua News Agency and a friend of Zhao's, said in an interview with Hong Kong's government-owned radio RTHK.

"History will give Zhao Ziyang justice. Some years later, June 4 must be vindicated," he said in the radio program.