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Friday 22 August 2014

Beijing blanketed in heavy security on 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square protests

Published 04/06/2014 | 08:18

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Beijing is blanketed in heavy security today, the 25th anniversary of the bloody military suppression of pro-democracy protests centred on Tiananmen Square, to pre-empt any attempts to publicly commemorate one of the darkest chapters in recent Chinese history.

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Scores of police and paramilitary troops patrolled the vast plaza in the city's heart and surrounding streets, stopping vehicles and demanding identification from passers-by.

Reporters were told to leave the area following the daily crack-of-dawn flag-raising ceremony and there were no signs of demonstrations or any type of public commemoration.

Dozens of activists, dissidents and other critics have already been detained by police, held under house arrest or sent out of the city.

China allows no public discussion of the events of June 3 and 4 1989, when soldiers backed by tanks and armoured personnel carriers fought their way into the heart of the city, killing hundreds of unarmed protesters and onlookers. The government has never issued a complete, formal accounting of the crackdown or the number of casualties.

Authorities allowed relatives of some of those killed to visit their loved ones' graves, but they had to go quietly and under police escort, according to Zhang Xianling, a member of a group that campaigns for the victims.

"Even though 25 years is a very long time, as a relative, as a mother, it feels like this happened just yesterday," said Ms Zhang, whose son, Wang Nan, was 19 when he was killed in the suppression.

"The wound is still very deep. And though we might now shed fewer tears than in the past, our conviction is even stronger. We must keep struggling until the end. We must pursue justice for our loved ones."

Beijing's official verdict is that the student-led protests aimed to topple the ruling Communist Party and plunge China into chaos. Protest leaders said they were seeking broader democracy and freedom, along with an end to corruption and favouritism within the party.

Although virtually wiped from the official record on the Chinese mainland, the Tiananmen protests remain a totem for political expression and Western-style civil liberties in Hong Kong, the former British colony which retained its own liberal social and legal systems after reverting to Chinese rule 17 years ago.

Every year the city holds a candlelight vigil to commemorate the victims that is attended by tens of thousands, with numbers rising in recent years. Organisers said they were expecting about 150,000 people to attend the night-time rally in a park.

Along with concerns about political unrest, China has recently been shaken by violence blamed on separatists from the far north-western region of Xinjiang, adding to the increased security measures.

For the first time, a pro-Beijing group, the Voice of Loving Hong Kong, is planning a counter-rally in support of the military crackdown, in a sign of increasing polarisation in the territory.

An annual survey by the University of Hong Kong showed that support for the student-led protests had slipped although most still thought Beijing was wrong to condemn them.

In the telephone poll of 1,005 people conducted from May 17-22, 48.5% of people agreed that "the Beijing students did the right thing in the June 4 incident", down from 54.1% a year ago.

Pollster Robert Chung said support for the protesters was strongest among those under 30.

"This probably reflects the demand for democracy among the younger generation," he said.

The White House paid tribute to the pro-democracy protesters who stood up against the Chinese government in Tiananmen Square 25 years ago, and called on Chinese authorities to account for those who were killed, were detained or went missing during and after the protests.

Press secretary Jay Carney said the US "will always speak out in support of the basic freedoms the protesters at Tiananmen Square sought".

Mr Carney praised China for "extraordinary social and economic progress" over the last three decades and urged the Chinese government to guarantee "universal rights and fundamental freedoms" to all its citizens.

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