BEIJING:China blanketed Tiananmen Square with police and security forces today, blocking any attempt to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the deadly crackdown on mass democracy protests.
The government again defended the decision to put down the demonstrations, leaving hundreds and perhaps thousands dead, and firmly dismissed a US demand for a public accounting of the events of June 3-4, 1989.
Tens of thousands of people were expected to commemorate the anniversary around the world but the only major event on Chinese soil was to take place nearly 2,000 km away in semi-autonomous Hong Kong.
Hundreds of police and security forces were deployed in Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, the Chinese capital, where protesters rallied for weeks in 1989 for democratic reform before the army’s deadly intervention.
Police officers searched bags and even the pockets of thousands of Chinese and foreign tourists streaming through checkpoints to visit the giant plaza, and foreign journalists were barred from entering.
“There are far more cops than normal days,” said a 35-year-old Chinese man who said he frequently visits the square. “It’s because of June 4. It’s pretty scary having so much police. There are a lot of plainclothes officers too.” China has for days worked to prevent any public discussion or remembrance of the events by blocking access to social networking websites like Twitter, blacking out some foreign news reports and hiding away key dissidents.
An AFP TV journalist was ordered by police to delete footage from his camera, and local tourists near the square were reluctant to discuss the crackdown -- a subject that remains taboo.
“It’s a history issue. I don’t know much about history,” said a 20-year-old man from the southern province of Guangdong, one of many areas outside Beijing where demonstrations erupted 20 years ago. The government dismissed calls for a review of the crackdown and expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s demand for an account of the dead and missing. “On the political incident that took place in the 1980s, the party and the government have already reached a conclusion,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters.
Clinton had called on Beijing to publish the names of those killed or missing, saying it would help China “learn and heal.” Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama also called for a review of the events that led to the bloodshed. The students who led the movement were “neither anti-communist nor anti-socialist”, the Dalai Lama said in a statement from his exile base in India.
“It is my hope that the Chinese leaders have the courage and far-sightedness to embrace more truly egalitarian principles and pursue a policy of greater accommodation and tolerance of diverse views,” he said.
Twenty years on, the government’s authority at home is intact and its global clout is greater
than ever, thanks mainly to its ranking as the world’s third-biggest economy.
But activists have continued to press the government to address the crackdown.
“The Communist Party has to acknowledge the crimes that it committed,” Qi Zhiyong, 53, who lost a leg in June 1989, told Agence France Presse ahead of the anniversary, before being ordered out of sight.