Massive crowd at Hong Kong Tiananmen vigil

Friday, June 5, 2009
By Guy Newey, AFP

HONG KONG -- Tens of thousands of people crowded a park in Hong Kong for a candlelight vigil to mark the 20th anniversary of the bloody crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square, the only such event on Chinese soil.

The annual vigil has become a touchstone both for the movement for democracy in China and for the campaign to overturn Beijing's official verdict condemning the 1989 demonstrations.

Organisers said they were hoping 100,000 people would attend the event in the southern Chinese city's Victoria Park, more than double last year's attendance.

"This rally will tell the world... that we still remember the Tiananmen Square democracy movement," Xiong Yan, one of the student leaders of the protests who was surprisingly let into Hong Kong on Saturday, told AFP.

The park was aglow with the light from candles held by the sea of people.

The main stage was festooned with a huge banner written in Chinese that said: "June 4th, 20 years -- passing the fire to the next generation."

The Tiananmen crackdown -- which left hundreds, possibly thousands dead -- remains a taboo subject in China and authorities have moved aggressively to make sure the anniversary is not actively marked anywhere on the mainland.

But Hong Kong, which has a separate legal system from most of China as part of the agreement that returned the city to Chinese rule in 1997, remains a centre for dissident activity because of its enshrined right to free speech.

"Though Hong Kong is the only place in China that the candlelight can shine, it will continue to shine," said Cheung Man-kwong, a pro-democracy lawmaker and one of the organisers of the vigil.

Fellow Tiananmen protester Xiang Xiaoji was refused entry to Hong Kong, a move that was condemned by rights groups and the United States.

Another Tiananmen student leader, Wu'er Kaixi, was Thursday deported from neighbouring Macau to Taiwan.

Wu'er Kaixi, who was number two on Beijing's "most wanted" list following the crackdown, had flown to Macau Wednesday hoping he could enter the mainland, turn himself in to authorities and face trial.

Hong Kong, which in 1989 was still under British control, provided crucial support to the Tiananmen protesters.

Major fundraising activities in the city helped provide food and tents for those in Tiananmen Square. An underground organisation then helped smuggle many of the protest leaders out of China after the crackdown.

Han Dongfang, a leading protester in 1989 who now fights for workers' rights in China, said the sharp increase in the number of protests in the mainland over the past 10 years showed the spirit of Tiananmen had lasted.

"Today, countless Chinese people see protest as a means of realising their modest dreams of affluence, or reclaiming their usurped economic rights from corrupt officials, crooked businessmen and unscrupulous employers," said Han.

"Though it has little to do with democratic theory or sloganeering, this process has become unstoppable. Is this not a continuation of the campaign we launched 20 years ago?"

Beijing has never apologised for the way it ended the more than six weeks of democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, the centre of political power in China.

The government on Thursday rejected calls for a review of the crackdown, saying the matter had already been settled.

"When you look at how China wants to eliminate even the memory of June the 4th, just by remembering, this event has a moral power to push for changes," another event organiser and legislator, Lee Cheuk-Yan, told AFP.

Bao Pu, son of leading Chinese dissident Bao Tong and editor of a recently released memoir by Zhao Ziyang, the Chinese premier purged during the protests, said the dissident campaign would endure.

"We will never fail, because we will never give up," said Bao.

Copyright 1999 2009 The China Post.