BEIJING, Jun 4 – China on Wednesday imposed smothering security in central Beijing on the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, a bloody watershed in history that remains taboo in the communist nation.
Counting down to the anniversary, the United States demanded the release of scores of people detained in the run-up, as the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong prepared for an annual candlelit vigil that this year is expected to draw as many as 200,000 attendees.
Thousands of police and security forces, some armed with automatic rifles, have been deployed across the Chinese capital. Police trucks were numerous on and around Tiananmen Square Wednesday with fire engines and ambulances also visible.
Some security officers had fire extinguishers placed ready nearby. Security has also been heightened recently after a spate of attacks that authorities blame on separatists from the far-western region of Xinjiang.
Tourists and vendors went about the vast public square at the heart of Beijing, but uniformed and plainclothes officers were stationed at every corner and checking the ID cards of passers-by.
One Australian woman said she was prevented from visiting the Forbidden City, where China’s emperors lived, as she was not carrying her passport – not normally a requirement for tourists entering the historic site.
An AFP journalist was ordered to delete photos of scuffles between police and frustrated pedestrians waiting to enter the main part of the square Wednesday morning.
An unidentified man followed and harassed an AFP journalist for several blocks after passing by the square on bicycle Tuesday night.
Hundreds of unarmed civilians – by some estimates, more than 1,000 – were killed during the June 3-4 crackdown of 1989, when soldiers crushed months of peaceful protests by students who were demanding political reform to match China’s nascent economic opening up.
Since then, China has worked hard to quash public memories of the crackdown, censoring any mention of the incident from online social networks and detaining scores of activists, lawyers, artists and others in recent weeks.