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Survivors recall bloody Tiananmen crackdown

Survivors of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing marked the event's 18th anniversary on Monday by demanding political reform in China. Thousands gathered in Hong Kong to mourn the dead at a candlelight vigil.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Survivors of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing marked the event's 18th anniversary on Monday by demanding political reform in China. Thousands gathered in Hong Kong to mourn the dead at a candlelight vigil.

The day began quietly in Beijing's massive Tiananmen Square, where tourists gathered to watch a daily flag-raising ceremony amid tight security. Police usually are quick to snuff out any memorials, and there were no immediate reports of protests.

But on the anniversary's eve, one victim's weeping mother, Ding Zilin, placed flowers and a photo of her son on the spot where he died a few kilometers west of Tiananmen. Ding, who for years was placed under house arrest during Tiananmen anniversaries and other sensitive times, this year made the pilgrimage with no interference from state security forces.

"It's been 18 years and I felt like I let him down and let down the others who died with him," she said of her son, who was killed as he hid behind a flower bed from soldiers enforcing martial law on the night of June 3. He had turned 17 the day before.

Ding, co-founder of the Tiananmen Mothers, a group that represents families of those who died, said police did not try to stop her Sunday night, though plainclothes agents may have been observing the vigil.

"Right now, this is all I can do. Not getting justice for them, we're still pushing for it but there's been no response," said Ding, who has campaigned to get the government to acknowledge those killed in the crackdown and compensate their families for the deaths. "Their spirits are obviously not at peace."

Still pushing for reform
Most of the students who led the seven-week protest that was crushed on June 4, 1989, drifted away from activism and into careers in business or other professions.

But one of the most prominent student leaders, Wang Dan, has continued to push for political reform in China as he pursues a doctorate in history at Harvard University. He said in a taped video message that China's recent economic success can't make up for the crackdown, which killed hundreds, maybe thousands, of people.

"Who can guarantee things that happened 18 years ago will not happen 18 years later?" Wang said.

"Even if we become more powerful economically, China still cannot rise in international society," he said.

Another former student leader, Wu'er Kaixi, lamented that the memory of Tiananmen appears to be fading worldwide.

"The Chinese government is unwilling to face the truth and seems to hope that the 'problem' of June 4 will simply go away," Wu'er, who has worked as a businessman and radio broadcaster in Taiwan, told The Associated Press. "Unfortunately, for the most part, the world seems willing to go along with this."

But he added, "We, the Tiananmen generation, are young enough and stubborn enough to keep speaking out until the world is also on our side."

Memorial in Hong Kong
Hong Kongers mourn the Tiananmen victims each year at a candlelight vigil in the former British colony — the only place in China where such a large public commemoration is traditionally held. Many residents of the city supported the Tiananmen protesters, thinking they might help bring political reform to China.

People in Hong Kong were horrified when troops and tanks crushed the demonstration. The violence raised fears that the Communist leadership would not honor its promise to allow Hong Kong the civil liberties its people enjoyed under British rule.

But 10 years after the hand-over, Hong Kong still enjoys freedoms that people on the mainland can only dream about. Street protests are common and the press frequently criticizes the government, though media watchdogs say self-censorship is common.

Thousands of people went to the candlelight vigil Monday night, filling up four soccer fields at Victoria Park near downtown. Among them was Tonny Chin, 50, a clerk, who has attended the vigil every year since 1989.

"The June 4th incident is a tragedy for China. We need to vindicate it," he said.

China's government has called the Tiananmen protest a counterrevolutionary riot and has yet to fully disclose what happened.

Human Rights Watch said Beijing's failure to account for the crackdown casts a pall on its campaign to project a new image for itself as it prepares to host the 2008 Olympic Games in 14 months. The New York-based group also said in a statement that survivors and victims' families have been subjected to intrusive scrutiny by security officials before the anniversary.

"What kind of Olympic host marks the annual anniversary of a brutal massacre by persecuting victims' families and detaining dissidents?" said Sophie Richardson, the group's deputy Asia director.