Wednesday 20 September 2017

110,000 at vigil to remember Tiananmen crackdown

Tens of thousands of people attend an annual candlelight vigil at Hong Kong's Victoria Park. Photo: AP
Tens of thousands of people attend an annual candlelight vigil at Hong Kong's Victoria Park. Photo: AP

Katy Wong

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Hong Kong for a candlelight vigil to mark the 28th anniversary of China's crackdown on pro-democracy protests in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Nearly three decades after Beijing sent tanks and troops to quell the 1989 student-led protests, Chinese authorities still ban any public commemoration of the event on the mainland, and have yet to release an official death toll.

Estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand killed.

Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, is the only place on Chinese soil where a large-scale commemoration takes place, symbolising the financial hub's relative freedoms compared with the mainland.

This year's events were especially politically charged, coming just a month before an expected visit of president Xi Jinping to mark 20 years since Hong Kong was handed back to China.

"When Xi Jinping comes, he'll know the people of Hong Kong have not forgotten," said Lee Cheuk-yan, an organiser of the annual candlelight vigil.

On a sombre night, many held aloft flickering flames, sang songs and listened to speeches calling on Beijing to fully atone for the crackdown.

Organisers of the vigil, held in Hong Kong's Victoria Park, said the event drew about 110,000 people, enough to fill more than six football pitches. However, Hong Kong police estimated the crowd at 18,000.

"The students who died [in 1989] still haven't got what they deserve. They fought for their future, in the same way we're fighting for our future," said Yanny Chan, a 17-year-old high school student at the vigil.

In Taiwan, president Tsai Ing-wen marked the anniversary with an offer to help China to make the transition to democracy.

Mr Tsai said that the biggest gap between Taiwan and China was democracy and freedom, needling Beijing at a time when relations between China and the self-ruled island are at a low point.

In Beijing, security was tight as usual at Tiananmen Square, with long lines at bag and identity checks. The square itself was peaceful, thronged with tourists taking photos.

Irish Independent

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