China blocks commemoration

June 4, 2009 12:00 am

, BEIJING, Jun 4- China blanketed Tiananmen Square with police and security forces, blocking any attempt to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the deadly crackdown on mass democracy protests.

The government again defended the decision to put down the demonstrations, leaving hundreds and perhaps thousands dead, and firmly dismissed a US demand for a public accounting of the events of June 3-4, 1989.

Tens of thousands of people were expected to commemorate the anniversary around the world but the only major event on Chinese soil was to take place nearly 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) away in semi-autonomous Hong Kong.

Hundreds of police and security forces were deployed in Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, the Chinese capital, where protesters rallied for weeks in 1989 for democratic reform before the army’s deadly intervention.

Police officers searched bags and even the pockets of thousands of Chinese and foreign tourists streaming through checkpoints to visit the giant plaza, and foreign journalists were barred from entering.

"There are far more police than normal days," said a 35-year-old Chinese man who said he frequently visits the square. "It’s because of June 4. It’s pretty scary having so much police. There are a lot of plain-clothes officers too."

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

An AFP TV journalist was ordered by police to delete footage from his camera, and local tourists near the square were reluctant to discuss the crackdown — a subject that remains taboo.

"It’s a history issue. I don’t know much about history," said a 20-year-old man from the southern province of Guangdong, one of many areas outside Beijing where demonstrations erupted 20 years ago.

The government insisted it had acted properly and expressed "strong dissatisfaction" with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s demand to account for the dead and missing.

"On the political incident that took place in the 1980s, the party and the government have already reached a conclusion," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters.

Clinton had 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.

Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama also urged China’s leaders to review the events that led to the bloodshed.

The students who led the movement were "neither anti-communist nor anti-socialist", the Dalai Lama said in a statement from his exile base in India.

"It is my hope that the Chinese leaders have the courage and far-sightedness to embrace more truly egalitarian principles and pursue a policy of greater accommodation and tolerance of diverse views," he said.

The events that unfolded in Tiananmen Square played out on television screens around the world and temporarily made Beijing a pariah in the eyes of the West.

Twenty 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.

But activists have continued to press the government to address the crackdown.

"The Communist Party has to acknowledge the crimes that it committed," Qi Zhiyong, 53, who lost a leg in June 1989, told AFP ahead of the anniversary, before being ordered out of sight.

In Beijing’s Muxidi area, the scene of some of the worst blood-letting two decades ago, there had been expectations of low-key commemorations Wednesday night, but none was sighted amid heavy police presence.

Dai Qing, a prominent Beijing-based critic of the government who spent time in jail after the crackdown, said she was heeding a call by dissidents to wear the traditional colour of mourning in a tribute to those killed on June 3-4.

"I’m wearing white," she told AFP.

"The use of this kind of violence on June 4 may make you think this is a powerful government, but it did not bring happiness to people."



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