Hong Kong 'Still Cares Deeply' About Tiananmen Massacre, 28 Years On

hk-rally-05292017.jpg Rights activists march in Hong Kong ahead of the 28th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, May 28, 2017.

Rights activists in Hong Kong said they will press ahead with mass public events commemorating the military crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Beijing in spite of growing political influence from the ruling Chinese Communist Party in the city.

"For as long as the authorities refuse to overturn the official verdict on June 4, 1989, our work will remain unfinished," Richard Choi, deputy chairman of the Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, which organizes an annual march and candlelight vigil on the anniversary of the massacre, told reporters.

He called on Hong Kong citizens to take to the streets to make clear their dissatisfaction over Beijing's authoritarian style of government, dismissing concerns that the events have lost the support of the younger generation.

"We are still seeing a lot of young people turning out for June 4 events, whether as part of another organization or not," he said. "And various student groups have held their own memorial activities in various forms over the past two or three years."

"I think the younger generation do still care about June 4," he said.

Hong Kong was promised the continuation of its traditional freedoms of speech and association by a mini-constitution drafted by U.K. and Chinese officials ahead of the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

But many say those freedoms are rapidly being eroded, and recent charges against peaceful demonstrators have sparked fears of a politicized "purge" aimed at discouraging further popular protests.

Vigil to greet Xi Jinping

Alliance leader Lee Cheuk-yan said the candlelight vigil is also a chance to show public anger at Beijing ahead of the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to Chinese rule.

"Nobody is happy with this regime, so they should come to the candlelight vigil as a way of showing our displeasure to President Xi Jinping," he said.

Xi is likely to visit Hong Kong for lavish official ceremonies marking the July 1 handover, and activists have accused the Hong Kong authorities of rounding up prominent figures in the city's own 2014 democracy movement and charging them with public order offenses ahead of his visit.

Nine activists, academics and lawyers, including the three founders of the Occupy Central movement face criminal charges in a trial scheduled for June 15.

"We won't estimate how many will come to the vigil in advance, but we don't believe that people have cooled on this issue: they still care a lot," he said.

Hundreds of rights activists marched in Hong Kong on Sunday ahead of the 28th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre that put an end to weeks of peaceful protest around the country and saw the downfall of then premier Zhao Ziyang and a nationwide political crackdown on participants.

Carrying banners calling on Beijing to overturn the official verdict of "counterrevolutionary rebellion" on the movement, the activists marched to the Communist Party's liaison office in the city, scuffling briefly with police before posting a letter at the gates.

But local media said turnout was at its lowest since 2008, with few students joining the march, possibly because of a lack of interest in mainland China.

Thousands to rally

While organizers said around 1,000 people joined the march, police said the crowd numbered around 450.

Organizer Richard Choi said campaigners are now gearing up for a crowd of thousands at the city's annual candlelight vigil for the victims of the bloodshed.

"The Alliance's attitude is basically that we will continue to organize this event regardless of how many people show up," Choi told reporters following suggestions that support for the event is waning as Beijing extends its political influence in the former British colony.

"But I think the people of Hong Kong know that the most important thing is that we send out a strong and public message to China's leadership that we want them to overturn the verdict on June 4, 1989, especially as President Xi Jinping gets ready to visit Hong Kong [for the 20th anniversary of the city's handover to China on July 1]."

"We want them to know that the people of Hong Kong will not forget June 4, and also that we will continue to fight for our own freedom," he said.

The Occupy Central, or Umbrella, Movement for fully democratic elections rejected Beijing's insistence that any move to universal suffrage in the city must include the vetting of candidates by its supporters, and called for "real universal suffrage."

At its height, hundreds of thousands of people poured onto the city's streets in protest, using umbrellas to protect themselves from sun, rain, and pepper spray, and giving the Umbrella Movement its nickname.

But the movement ended with no political victory, and amid accusations from Beijing that the protests were being orchestrated by "hostile foreign forces" behind the scenes.

Reported by Wong Si-lam for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Ding Wenqi for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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