Thousands in Hong Kong to mark Tiananmen crackdown

Pro-democracy groups hope to draw 150,000 people to the annual candlelight vigil in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong: Thousands of people in Hong Kong were Saturday to mark the bloody 1989 crushing of democracy protests in Beijing, as China defies international condemnation with a roundup of political dissidents.

Pro-democracy groups hope to draw 150,000 people to the annual candlelight vigil in Hong Kong`s Victoria Park, the only commemoration on Chinese soil, to remember the 22nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

"We are hoping for the same number of people like last year, if not a bigger crowd this year, " said Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the vigil organiser.

"With the current crackdown in China, we are also expecting more mainlanders -- those who study or work here -- to join us this year because they won`t be able to do so in China," Lee, who is also a prominent lawmaker, said to a news agency.

Wang Dan, a key leader of the 1989 student-led protests, and Ding Zilin, spokeswoman of the Tiananmen Mothers, a group representing families of the victims, will address the crowd in Hong Kong by videolink from Taiwan and China respectively.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, are believed to have died when the government sent in tanks and soldiers to clear Beijing`s Tiananmen Square on the night of June 3-4, 1989, bringing a violent end to six weeks of pro-democracy protests.

An official verdict after the protests called them a "counter-revolutionary rebellion" although the wording has since been softened.

Rights groups including New York-based Human Rights Watch have repeated calls for China to be held accountable for its past and present actions, but Beijing reiterated its position that the matter was closed.

"As for the political turbulence that took place in the last century in the late 1980s, the Communist Party and government have already made a conclusion," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters on Thursday.

Since mid-February, as protests spread across the Arab world leading to the toppling of leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, Chinese authorities have detained dozens of lawyers, activists and dissidents in an ongoing clampdown.

"The brutal tactics and ensuing crackdown employed by the government to suppress the student-led democracy movement of 1989 are not only history," Amnesty International Hong Kong said in a statement.

Amnesty said the same actions have been used to continue to suppress any "possibility of a challenge to the Communist Party`s monopoly on power".

Beijing`s terse comments on the "political turbulence" came after Chinese police for the first time raised the possibility of compensation for those killed, according to Tiananmen Mothers.

The group said in an annual open letter this week that police have twice met relatives of one victim beginning in February, in a possible sign that Beijing is changing its view on the June 4 crackdown.

The letter said, however, that police did not discuss a formal apology for the killings or a public account of who ordered the shootings -- two of the group`s long-standing demands.

The vigil in Hong Kong was preceded by an annual Tiananmen march last Sunday in the city, attended by about 1,000 politicians, students and trade unionists.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 but maintains a semi-autonomous status with civil liberties -- including the right to protest -- not enjoyed in mainland China.

The Tiananmen protests remain a taboo subject in mainland China, which annually imposes restrictions on dissidents ahead of the anniversary to limit protests and demonstrations related to the crackdown.

Bureau Report

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