Hong Kong recalls Tiananmen killings

Tens of thousands of people held a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

A man takes a picture with his mobile phone as people hold candles to commemorate China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square events during a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong on 4 June, 2014. Picture: AFP.

HONG KONG/BEIJING - Tens of thousands of people held a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong on Wednesday to mark the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters 25 years ago in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, while mainland China authorities sought to whitewash the 1989 event.

In Beijing, police flooded the streets around the square, the scene of the worst of the violence a quarter of a century ago, and censors scrubbed the Internet clean of any mention of the rare open display of defiance against the Communist Party.

In Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 but remains a free-wheeling, capitalist hub, demonstrators holding candles and clad mainly in black gathered in a downtown park and called on Beijing to atone for the killings.

A large number of mainland Chinese also flocked to commemorate the crackdown in the former British territory, where a vigil has been held every year since the massacre. Organisers said some 180,000 people took part on Wednesday evening.

The United States led international calls for China to account for what happened on 4 June, 1989. The comments riled China, which has said the protest movement was "counter-revolutionary".

Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama also used the anniversary to call on China to embrace democracy.

China has never released a death toll from the crackdown after troops shot their way into central Beijing, but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.

Public discussion of Tiananmen is forbidden in China and online references to it are heavily censored, leaving many of the country's youth ignorant of what happened.

SECURITY BLANKET

In mainland China, police, soldiers and plain clothed security personnel enveloped Tiananmen Square, checking identity cards and rummaging through bags looking for any hint that people might try to commemorate the anniversary.

Police escorted a Reuters reporter off the square, which was thronging with tourists, saying it was closed to foreign media.

Police also detained another Reuters journalist for trying to report on the anniversary in one of Beijing's university districts, releasing him after a few hours.

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

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. They grew into broader demands for an end to corruption as well as calls for democracy.

SIGN OF THE TIMES

On both sides of Hong Kong's iconic harbour, scuffles broke out between rival political factions in the worst confrontations so far at a 4 June event, highlighting rising tensions between the city and mainland China.

It comes at a sensitive time for the Asian financial centre, with debate over constitutional reform looming and pro-democracy activists planning to hold mass protests in July to demand the right to choose their own candidates for a poll in 2017 to elect the next Hong Kong leader.

Pro-Beijing group the Voice of Loving Hong Kong taunted vigil-goers at the entrance to Victoria Park, where more than 30 uniformed police monitored proceedings.

"Let the past pass ... it's already 25 years. If we continue, all Chinese are losers," said chairman of the group Patrick Ko.

The group played a video in which it claimed 5,000 soldiers were injured during the Tiananmen clashes, more than the 4,000 citizens it said had been hurt.

Hung Lap, wearing a yellow headband, charged at the group with a large banner that said: "Overthrow the Communist Party, the Chinese Communist Party is an evil cult."

Amid pushing and shoving, Hung shouted into a loud-hailer: "Go die ... Get out of Hong Kong."

Hong Kong residents have increasingly taken to the streets to protest against perceived meddling by China in the city's affairs, causing a headache for mainland authorities.

The world's first museum commemorating the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown opened in Hong Kong in late April and more than 6,000 people have visited since then.