Security, Calls for Accounting Mark Tiananmen Anniversary

BEIJING ~ China imposed a security clampdown on Thursday to stop any event marking the 20th anniversary of the crushing of the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests, as it faced renewed calls to account for the bloodshed.

Tens of thousands of people were expected to rally in cities around the world to remember the military’s action on June 4, 1989 against demonstrators and ordinary citizens in the heart of the Chinese capital.

But the only major commemoration on Chinese soil of the bloodshed – in which hundreds, possibly thousands, were killed – was to take place nearly 2,000 kilometres away in semi-autonomous Hong Kong.

China has attempted to block any public discussion or remembrance of the events of June 1989 by blocking access to social networking websites like Twitter, blacking out some foreign news reports and hiding away key dissidents.

But activists say the decision 20 years ago by the ruling Communists to send in troops and tanks to quell the unprecedented seven weeks of protests calling for political reform in the one-party state must be publicly reviewed.

“The Communist Party has to acknowledge the crimes that it committed,” said Qi Zhiyong, 53, who lost a leg when People’s Liberation Army soldiers opened fire in the streets of Beijing on the night of June 3.

“Only in this way can democracy in China be pushed forward and take this so-called socialist system and bring new life to it,” he told AFP recently, before being ordered out of sight like many other vocal political dissidents.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Beijing to publish the names of those killed or missing, saying it would help China “learn and heal.”

“A China that has made enormous progress economically and is emerging to take its rightful place in global leadership should examine openly the darker events of its past,” she said in a statement.

The events that unfolded in Tiananmen Square – the symbol of political power in China – played out on television screens around the world.

But 20 years on, the government in Beijing has emerged relatively unscathed, with its authority at home intact and its global clout more powerful than ever before, thanks mainly to its ranking as the world’s third-biggest economy.

The government, brushing away calls for a formal inquiry into the crackdown and a full accounting of the number of people who lost their lives, has remained adamant that its actions were justified.

“The party and government have already come to a conclusion on the relevant issue,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters at a regular briefing on Tuesday.

“History has shown that the party and government have put China on the proper socialist path that serves the fundamental interests of the Chinese people.”

Nevertheless, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said it had received at least three reports of authorities blocking reporting at Tiananmen Square and intimidating journalists or their sources.

Given the extreme taboo surrounding the topic, and the hundreds of security forces patrolling Tiananmen Square, any protest in China on Thursday is likely to be discreet.

Wang Dan, a former Tiananmen student leader who has lived in exile for more than a decade, has called on people in the mainland to simply wear white – the colour of mourning.

But in Hong Kong, tens of thousands of mourners were expected to gather for an annual candlelight vigil. Other commemorative events were planned around the world, from the United States to Japan.

Fang Zheng, whose legs were run over and crushed by a tank during the crackdown, will be one of the speakers on Capitol Hill in Washington.

In London, Britain’s best-known female journalist Kate Adie, who covered the event for the BBC, will join former Tiananmen protesters currently in exile to lay flowers of remembrance in front of the Chinese embassy.

In China, hundreds of millions of people were either not even born when the tanks rolled towards Tiananmen Square, or are too young to remember anything about it.

But some, especially the relatives of the victims, refuse to allow the memory of the incident to fade away.

“Only the media cares, the political sphere does not,” said 72-year-old Ding Zilin, a retired professor whose son was shot through the heart 20 years ago. She now leads an activist group called the Tiananmen Mothers.

“I don’t think that in my lifetime I will see justice. I don’t think that the June 4 issue will be fairly resolved in the near future,” she said.

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