Hundreds marched through downtown Hong Kong on Sunday to mark the upcoming 20th anniversary of China's brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989. It was one of the few public commemorations on Chinese soil.
One student leader at Tiananmen was cheered as he was introduced to the crowd. "I feel like I have returned home," said Xiong Yan, a who lives in exile in the United States.
The protesters, many wearing black or white T-shirts for mourning, chanted, "The people will not forget" and "Reverse the verdict on June 4th" — a reference to the day of the deadly crackdown.
Tens of thousands are expected to attend a candlelit vigil Thursday for the victims.
The 1989 student protests are still considered a "counterrevolutionary" riot by the government in China and remain taboo, but they are openly remembered in Hong Kong because it is ruled by Beijing under a separate political system that promises freedom of speech.
Public discussion has been more heated this year because of the 20th anniversary, with local media outlets publishing and airing special reports. A University of Hong Kong poll released Wednesday showed that 69 percent of Hong Kongers think the crackdown was a mistake and 61 percent believe the Chinese government should stop condemning the protests.
"June 4 was a time when a group of people sacrificed their lives for democracy. We need to remember their efforts," said demonstrator Steve Chan.
The crackdown aggravated fears in Hong Kong about authoritarian Chinese rule just years before the then-British colony was handed back to Beijing.
Some protesters said they were upset by Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang's recent comments that most locals appreciate the benefits of China's economic growth since Tiananmen. Tsang later apologized, saying he was wrong to say his views reflected those of most residents.
"If a murderer becomes a rich man, does it excuse his crimes? Of course not," said another demonstrator, truck driver Cheung Sheung-yee.
While Hong Kong largely enjoys the freedom to remember the crackdown, a Danish artist who created a sculpture depicting its victims was denied entry to the territory Saturday. Jens Galschiot said immigration officials didn't explain why he was deported. The Hong Kong government said in a statement it acted legally but didn't give details.