Tiananmen survivors demand 'truth'

PARIS: Exiled Chinese dissidents who survived the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square demonstration said on Tuesday that, after 20 years, China should be held to account for the bloodshed.

Speaking at a Paris news conference organised by late designer Yves Saint Laurent's businessman partner Pierre Berge, former protester Zhou Qing said: "The government owes us the truth, and owes it to Chinese society."

The call came as Chinese dissidents prepared to mark the 20th anniversary of the Beijing protest, during which hundreds, possibly thousands, of students and workers at a pro-democracy rally were killed by security forces.

China's Communist government defends the June 4, 1989 crackdown, saying it had been necessary to quash a "counter-revolutionary" rebellion, and the state has so far released no official death toll for the repression.

Berge, a wealthy investor, has been a long-standing critic of China and most recently clashed with Beijing over the sale of two antique bronzes from Saint Laurent's collection, which the regime said were stolen goods.

Zhou was among the protesters who mounted a peaceful six-week protest in the square, a major landmark in the heart of Beijing, before government tanks and troops rolled in and launched a broad crackdown on dissident groups.

"The events of June 4 are a wound on the body of China," said Zhou, who now lives in Germany. "We must recognise the truth. If we hide this wound, the situation will only get worse.

"We the survivors must speak for those who died in Tiananmen Square, and also for those who were jailed," he said. "There were minors aged less than 17 who were locked up with me who were raped by common law criminals."

"After 20 years, the events continue to weigh heavily on Chinese society. I saw 11 students crushed under tanks," said his French-based comrade, Cai Chongguo, author of "I was in Tiananmen", published for the anniversary.

Former protest organiser Zhang Jian, 39, said he had been shot in the leg when soldiers stormed the square, adding: "For as long as I live I will bear witness so that the young Chinese know what happened."

Zhang will appear in a new Tiananmen documentary to air June 4.

Berge said the international community should do more to pressure Beijing over its human rights record, and noted that he had personally broken off business ties in China following the crackdown.