x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Security tight in Tiananmen Square

On the anniversary of the Chinese massacre, America calls for China to release the political prisoners still held.

Students hold a contemporary photo as they stage a protest in front of the Chinese Embassy in Berlin today.
Students hold a contemporary photo as they stage a protest in front of the Chinese Embassy in Berlin today.

BEIJING // Chinese police were out in force today to prevent commemoration of the massacre of pro-democracy protesters around Tiananmen Square 20 years ago, a day after Washington demanded Beijing account for those killed. Tanks rolled into the square before dawn on June 4, 1989, to crush weeks of student and worker protests. The ruling Communist Party has never released a death toll and fears any public marking of the crackdown could undermine its hold on power. The 1989 killings strained ties between Washington and Beijing and the reverberations were evident on the eve of the anniversary. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on China to release all those still imprisoned in connection with the protests, to stop harassing those who took part and to begin a dialogue with the victims' families. "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 and provide a public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, both to learn and to heal," Mrs Clinton said in a statement. "This anniversary provides an opportunity for Chinese authorities to release from prison all those still serving sentences in connection with the events surrounding June 4, 1989." The demands reflect views Washington has long held but represent a tougher stance on China's human rights record than Mrs Clinton has taken in her first four months in the job. Dennis Wilder, an analyst who specialises in Asian affairs, said Clinton's demands represented previous U.S. positions but her statement ahead of the anniversary was a powerful signal. "To be this publicly forceful, I think, is a stepping up of the criticism," said Mr Wilder. China then denounced the US demands. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Mrs Clinton's remarks amounted to "crudely meddling in Chinese domestic affairs". "The statement from the United States ignores the facts and makes groundless accusations against the Chinese government," he told a news briefing. "We express our strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition. We urge the United States to forsake its prejudices, correct its erroneous ways and avoid obstructing and damaging China-US relations." Mr Qin refused to directly answer questions about the death toll. Mrs Clinton's calls were echoed by Australian prime minister Kevin Rodd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat once posted in Beijing. "All people around the world were affected by those events and they still have resonance today," Mr Rudd told the Australian Parliament. In a sign of Beijing's mix of confidence and caution, Tiananmen Square was open to visitors today, with hundreds of police and guards present. On the 10th anniversary of the crackdown in 1999, it was closed to the public. Chinese crowded the square to watch the dawn flag-raising ceremony that is now a fixture of official patriotic ritual. Many were visitors from outside Beijing and appeared oblivious to the sensitive date. There were no gestures of protest. But some people came quietly to the square to mourn. "Today is June 4, so we came here to commemorate it," said a man surnamed Wang. Authorities blocked access to the social messaging site Twitter, online photo sharing service Flickr, as well as briefly to e-mail provider Hotmail. Foreign newscasts about the anniversary have been cut. Some Chinese activists and intellectuals recently urged the government to repent for the killings and start on a course of political liberalisation. But China's leaders have shown no appetite for such steps, often saying that top-down political control is needed to guard economic growth. Thousands of people in Hong Kong are expected to attend a candlelight vigil to commemorate the victims, as they do every year, and in Taiwan activists also marked the anniversary. The president of Taiwan told Beijing today to face up to the truth about the massacre, a departure from his usual conciliatory tone. "This painful period of history must be faced with courage and cannot be intentionally ducked," President Ma Ying-jeou said in a statement. Ma's comments break from his usual friendly tone towards Beijing, with which he has pursued detente since his election last year after six decades of tensions between the two sides. "Any government, in facing unpleasant history, must deal with the matter on its own merit," Ma said in the statement. A prominent student leader in the Tiananmen protests returned to Taiwan today after failing to enter China on the anniversary. Wu'er Kaixi said police officers in the southern Chinese territory of Macau deported him by carrying him onto a Taipei-bound plane today. The 41-year-old was denied entry into Macau late yesterday and spent the night in a detention center at Macau's airport. "I would much rather be standing today in Beijing to commemorate my departed fellows," Mr Wu'er told reporters in Taipei. "I feel sad because their dreams are yet to be fulfilled. I feel sad because justice is not upheld." One of the best known leaders from the Tiananmen student movement, Mr Wu'er rose to fame as a pyjama-clad hunger striker haranguing then-Chinese premier Li Peng at a televised meeting during the protests in Beijing. "I used the most mild way of trying to enter China and they still wouldn't let me in," he said. Macau's government confirmed denying entry to Wu'er yesterday but did not have immediate comment on his deportation. * Reuters and AP