Government curbs critics ahead of anniversary
HONG KONG — ; Nearly 50,000 people gathered Friday in Hong Kong to mark the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing, taking angry aim at the Chinese government for causing the 1989 bloodshed and for resisting Hong Kong's bid for broader democratic freedoms.
"Reverse the verdict on June 4," the crowd chanted. "End one-party rule. Return power to the people." The crowd bowed three times in a traditional Chinese funeral gesture, then chanted slogans including "demand accountability for the massacre." Organizers claimed 82,000 people had turned out, but police said the crowd had peaked at 48,000.
Just before the Hong Kong vigil, outspoken Hong Kong Roman Catholic bishop Joseph Zen urged Hong Kong people to join a protest march on July 1 to press for greater democracy. "It is not a bad thing. I don't agree with people who say there will be more chaos after marches. There will be chaos if marches are not allowed," Zen told reporters.
Some Hong Kong activists drew parallels between the Tiananmen Square campaign for democracy in 1989 and their ongoing campaign to win greater freedom from Beijing.
"Hong Kong should be democratic," university student Rocker Tsui told what has become an annual vigil in this former British colony. "Hong Kong people should be ruling Hong Kong ourselves."
Ahead of the anniversary, critics of the Chinese government were put under house arrest or forced to leave Beijing.
Hu Jia, China's leading AIDS activist, said security officials roughed him up in a bid to keep him quiet. "They tried to intimidate me," Hu told RFA's Cantonese service. "When I tried to stand up, we got into a fight. My forehead was bleeding and my right arm is still shaking."
Hu has been detained since May 22 to deter him from marking the anniversary and to stop him from meeting the U.S. ambassador to China, who recently visited villages hit hard by AIDS. "They want to keep me from meeting any visiting Americans," he said. "I can't go out, but I will mark the anniversary by lighting candles from the night of June 3 until dawn."
Ding Zilin, 67-year-old retired academic whose son was killed in the crackdown and who has been confined at home since Tuesday, said she welcomed a message of support from American legislators. "I hope the Chinese government will use a clear head to receive this message — ; to walk out from the shadow of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin. I hope they change their old way of doing things."
In Washington, the U.S. State Department voiced concern at "any efforts to limit freedom of speech and urge China not to restrict its citizens from engaging in debate on important and sensitive issues of public interest."
Hong Kong and the former Portuguese enclave of Macau are the only China-controlled territories allowed to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen movement, which ended when tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square and troops opened fire.
Hundreds of people were killed, and the Chinese government continues to describe the crackdown as a necessary move to quell a counter-revolutionary rebellion. Roughly 1 million Hong Kong people took to the streets in a torrential rain to protest immediately afterward.
Hong Kong people have grown increasingly frustrated and unhappy with Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, handpicked to govern Hong Kong when the British left in 1997. Tensions in the territory have escalated since China ruled in April that Hong Kong people cannot elect Tung's successor in 2007.
Beijing also said ordinary Hong Kong citizens cannot choose all lawmakers in 2008. Voters will pick just 30 of 60 lawmakers in September, with the rest chosen by special interest groups such as business leaders who tend to side with Beijing and Tung.
Beijing has stressed economic growth for the territory in hopes that will mute the demands for universal suffrage now being denied.
A group of Chinese and foreign academics last week issued an open letter asking for an investigation and for those responsible to "openly ask for forgiveness of the people."