Image: Chinese paramilitary police officer
Thierry Roge  /  Reuters
A Chinese police officer stands guard in front of a portrait of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong in Beijing on Saturday. Tight security blanketed China's capital on the 16th anniversary of the bloody end to the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.
updated 6/4/2005 6:01:10 PM ET 2005-06-04T22:01:10

China tightened security around Tiananmen Square on Saturday to prevent memorials on the anniversary of the bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. But in Hong Kong, tens of thousands of protesters staged a candlelight rally.

In Sydney, Australia, a Chinese diplomat who is seeking asylum emerged from hiding to address a memorial rally.

Tiananmen Square, the symbolic political heart of China, was open to the public. But extra carloads of police watched tourists on the vast plaza, where weeks of student-led demonstrations that drew tens of thousands ended in a military attack 16 years ago Saturday. Troops killed hundreds and perhaps thousands of protesters that day.

There was no public mention of the anniversary in China nor any sign of attempts to commemorate it.

U.S.: Tiananmen legacy ‘brutal and tragic’
The United States used the anniversary to press Beijing for a full account of the dead, missing and detained from what it called the “brutal and tragic” events of 1989 and demanded that China generally show greater respect for internationally recognized human rights.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States remembered the many Chinese citizens killed, detained, or missing in connection with the protests. In addition to those who died, thousands of Chinese were arrested and sentenced without trial, and as many as 250 still languish in prison for Tiananmen-related activities, he said.

“We call on the Chinese government to fully account for the thousands killed, detained, or missing, and to release those unjustly imprisoned,” McCormack said.

“It is now time for the Chinese government to move forward with a reexamination of Tiananmen, and give its citizens the ability to flourish by allowing them to think, speak, assemble and worship freely. We continue to urge China to bring its human rights practices into conformity with international standards and law.”

Image: Hong Kong Tiananmen Square vigil
Alex Hofford  /  Sipa Press
Protesters in Hong Kong hold a candlelight vigil Saturday in remembrance of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square crackdown.
The day was especially sensitive because it followed the death in January of Zhao Ziyang, the former Communist Party leader who was purged in 1989 for sympathizing with the protesters.

Communist leaders have eased many of the social controls that fueled the unrest but still crush any activity that they fear might challenge their monopoly on power. After an official ruling that the nonviolent protests were a subversive riot, activists and relatives of the dead who appeal that ruling are detained and harassed.

“Family members of victims, like the Tiananmen mothers, and other citizens who urge their government to undertake a reassessment of what happened June 4, 1989, should be free from harassment and detention,” McCormack said.

Beijing urged to ‘recognize history’
In Hong Kong, a crowd estimated by organizers at 30,000-40,000 raised candles in the air in Victoria Park and sang solemn songs in the only large-scale memorial on Chinese soil. They carried signs that read: “Don’t forget June 4” and “Democracy fighters live forever.”

The former British territory retains many of its Western-style civil liberties — a status that many there say obligates them to speak out while those on the mainland cannot.

“Our slogan is ‘Recognize history,’ and we’re asking Beijing to do just that,” said a vigil organizer, Lee Cheuk-yan.

A younger generation of Chinese who came of age since the protests know little about 1989 because of an official ban on public discussion.

But many in Hong Kong are still emotional about the crackdown, which came as the territory was preparing for its 1997 return to Chinese rule.

“Hong Kong people will not forget this history when a government uses guns and tanks to crush students. It’s very atrocious,” said Shum Ming, a 58-year-old construction worker.

Government defends crackdown
In their rare public comments about 1989, Chinese leaders defend the crackdown by pointing to the nation’s emergence as an economic powerhouse since then, saying it would have been impossible without the enforced stability of one-party rule. A booming private economy has freed millions of Chinese from the structure of state jobs that controlled where they lived and worked — and even whom they could marry.

That defense was echoed Saturday by Donald Tsang, the leading candidate in the campaign to become Hong Kong’s next leader.

“I had shared Hong Kong people’s passion and impetus when the June 4 incident happened. But after 16 years, I’ve seen our country’s impressive economic and social development,” Tsang said. “My feelings have become calmer.”

In Sydney, Chen Yonglin, a 37-year-old Chinese diplomat who abandoned his post, said at a memorial rally that he was seeking asylum in Australia because of the lack of freedoms in China.

“In 16 years, the Chinese government has done nothing for political reform,” he said. “People have no political freedom, no human rights.”

Chen was the consul for political affairs at the Chinese consulate in Sydney.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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