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Trump Calls Tiananmen Square Protests a 'Riot,' Defends Calling Crackdown 'Strong'

Donald Trump called the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests a "riot" during Thursday's Republican presidential debate.
Image: Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, John Kasich
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks, as Republican presidential candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., left, and businessman Donald Trump attempt to interrupt, during the Republican presidential debate sponsored by CNN, Salem Media Group and the Washington Times at the University of Miami, Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Coral Gables, Fla. Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is at right.Wilfredo Lee / AP

During Thursday night's Republican presidential debate, Donald Trump defended comments he made in a 1990 Playboy interview that some critics have said praised the Chinese government's crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, which Trump called a "riot" during the debate.

"Mr. Trump, some of your Republican critics have expressed concern about comments you have made praising authoritarian dictators," CNN anchor and debate moderator Jake Tapper said. "You have said positive things about Putin as a leader and about China's massacre of pro-democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square."

Referencing comments made during Trump's Playboy interview, Tapper continued, "You've said, 'When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it, then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.'"

Trump said he didn't use the term "strength" as a compliment, calling the Tiananmen Square protests a "riot" in the process.

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"That doesn't mean I was endorsing that," Trump said. "I was not endorsing it. I said that is a strong, powerful government that put it down with strength. And then they kept down the riot. It was a horrible thing. It doesn't mean at all I was endorsing it."

"Strong doesn't mean good," he continued. "Putin is a strong leader, absolutely. I could name many strong leaders. I could name very many weak leaders, but he is a strong leader. I don't say that in a good way or a bad way. I say it as a fact."

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Following Trump's answer, Tapper turned to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, asking for his opinion on the Tiananmen Square protests.

"I think that the Chinese government butchered those kids and when that young man stood in front of that tank, we ought to build a statue of him over here," Kasich said.

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