Wednesday 26 June 2019

'Tiananmen was a bloodbath'

Security heavy on square on 30th anniversary of crackdown

Solemn protest: Thousands of people attend a vigil in Hong Kong for victims of the brutal crackdown in Tiananmen Square 30 years ago. Photo: AP
Solemn protest: Thousands of people attend a vigil in Hong Kong for victims of the brutal crackdown in Tiananmen Square 30 years ago. Photo: AP

Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina

Tourists thronged Beijing's Tiananmen Square yesterday amid tighter-than-usual security, but most visitors said they were unaware of the bloody crackdown on student-led protests 30 years ago or refused to discuss it.

The anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, when the Chinese Communist Party sent troops and tanks to quell pro-democracy activists, is not spoken of openly in the country and will not be formally marked by the government, which has ramped up censorship.

A 67-year-old man, who gave his surname as Li, sitting on a bench about a 10-minute walk from the square, said he remembered the events of June 4, 1989 and its aftermath clearly.

"I was on my way back home from work. Changan Avenue was strewn with burned-out vehicles. The People's Liberation Army killed many people. It was a bloodbath," he said.

Asked if he thought the government should give a full account of the violence, he said: "What's the point? These students died for nothing."

Among the students' demands were a free press and freedom of speech, disclosure of leaders' assets and freedom to demonstrate. However, exiled former protest leaders say those goals are further away in China than ever before because the government has in the past decade suppressed a civil society nurtured by years of economic development.

Tiananmen also remains a point of contention between China and many Western countries which have implored Chinese leaders to account for giving the People's Liberation Army the order to open fire on their own people.

The foreign ministry in Beijing denounced criticism by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who called for the release of all political prisoners and saluted "the heroes of the Chinese people who bravely stood up 30 years ago in Tiananmen Square to demand their rights".

Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Mr Pompeo had "maliciously attacked China's political system".

"The Chinese people have seen their hypocrisy and evil motives," Mr Geng said. "These lunatic ravings and babblings are destined for the garbage heap of history."

China has never released a final death toll from the events on and around June 4. Estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to thousands.

Security yesterday was heavy in and around the square itself, with no signs of any protests or memorials.

Hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police monitored the square and its surroundings, conducting spot ID checks and inspecting car boots. Thousands of visitors lined up at security checkpoints to enter the square, many carrying tour group flags.

A tourist in his 30s said he had no idea about the anniversary. "Never heard of it," he said. "I'm not aware of this."

An older woman applying grout to a building close to the square's southern entrance said: "That's today? I'd forgotten." She quickly waved away a reporter when security guards approached. A younger colleague said he had never heard of the events in the spring and summer of 1989.

Rights groups said authorities had rounded up dissidents in the run-up to the anniversary. Amnesty International said police had detained, put under house arrest, or threatened dozens of activists in recent weeks.

While no public events to mark the anniversary will be tolerated in mainland China, demonstrators gathered in Hong Kong, the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997. There will also be events in self-ruled and democratic Taiwan, which China claims as its own.

One online censor, who worked a shift of more than 12 hours until early morning for Twitter-like social media site Weibo, said content removed included memes, video game references and images including yesterday's date.

Irish Independent

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