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Tiananmen Square

Security tight in Hong Kong and China on Tiananmen crackdown anniversary

Security tight in Hong Kong and China on Tiananmen crackdown anniversary
Alexandra Wong (C, white hair), an activist known as Grandma Wong, is detained by police officers at Causeway Bay near Victoria Park in Hong Kong, China, 04 June 2024. For almost three decades, people in Hong Kong commemorated the 04 June anniversary of China's deadly crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square with a noisy candlelit vigil in the city's Victoria Park. Now the subject is so sensitive, that nearby Victoria Park had been the site of an annual remembrance of the crackdown at Tiananmen Square, the event has no longer taken place since the new national security law came into effect. EPA-EFE/LEUNG MAN HEI

BEIJING/HONG KONG, June 4 (Reuters) - Security was tight and access restricted to Beijing's Tiananmen Square on Tuesday, the 35th anniversary of the June 4 crackdown, while Hong Kong police detained several activists, as cities in Taiwan and elsewhere prepared to mark the date with vigils.

Chinese tanks rolled into the square before dawn on June 4, 1989, to end weeks of pro-democracy demonstrations by students and workers. Television news images of a lone Chinese man in a white shirt standing in front of a column of tanks spread around the world and became the iconic image of the demonstrations.

Decades after the military crackdown, rights activists say the demonstrators’ original goals including a free press and freedom of speech remain distant, and June 4 is still a taboo topic in China.

The ruling Communist Party has never released a death toll, though rights groups and witnesses say the figure could run into the thousands.

“The memory of June 4th will not disappear in the torrent of history,” Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te said in a statement on Tuesday.

Taiwan would “respond to authoritarianism with freedom,” added Lai, inaugurated last month as the leader of the democratic island China claims as its own.

In Beijing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, told reporters that Beijing “firmly opposes anyone smearing China and using this (June 4) as a pretext to interfere in China’s internal affairs”.

Taiwan is the only part of the Chinese-speaking world where June 4 can be remembered openly, with a commemoration event planned in Taipei, the capital. Others are planned in countries such as Britain, Canada and the United States.

In China-ruled Hong Kong, police officers tightened security around downtown Victoria Park, where large June 4 candlelight vigils had been held annually before tougher new national security laws took effect in recent years.

Police took away several individuals near the park, among them an elderly man holding up a poster commemorating June 4, a Reuters witness said.

Another activist, 68-year-old Alexandra Wong, was surrounded by around a dozen officers when she held up a bouquet of flowers and shouted, “The people will not forget,” before being taken away in a police van.

Over the past week, Hong Kong police have arrested eight people for sedition under a new national security law, including activist Chow Hang-tung, stemming from what media said were online posts linked to June 4.

“There are still forces that attempt to undermine Hong Kong’s stability and security,” Hong Kong leader John Lee told reporters, without mentioning June 4 specifically.

He also warned of a need to “be on guard all the time against attempts to cause trouble”.

In Beijing, an official website for the Tiananmen Tower overlooking the square, posted a notice earlier saying it would be closed for the entire day on June 4.

Time slots for visits to Tiananmen Square were also not available for June 4 on its official WeChat mini-app. Chang’an Avenue, the road lining the square, was closed to pedestrians and cyclists on Monday evening, a witness said.

 

INCREASED SECURITY

Small groups of “stability maintenance” volunteers, or retirees with red armbands, have kept watch in central Beijing neighbourhoods since last week.

Guards have also been stationed on pedestrian bridges, a regular practice during politically sensitive periods.

On Chinese social media platforms including WeChat and Douyin, users were unable to change their profile photographs, according to online posts and Reuters tests.

In the past, some online users have altered profile names and pictures with symbolic images such as candles around June 4.

“Thirty-five years have passed, and the authorities remain silent. All that can be seen on the internet is ‘A Concise History of the Communist Party of China’, which says that a tragic incident was caused by the student movement in 1989,” wrote the Tiananmen Mothers.

“We cannot accept or tolerate such statements that ignore the facts,” added the group of more than 100 mostly China-based survivors and families of the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong highlighted the “brutal force” used against student protesters 35 years ago, while expressing concern about China’s curbs on human rights.

“We call on China to cease suppression of freedoms of expression, assembly, media and civil society and to release those detained for peacefully expressing their political views,” Wong said in a statement.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei, Laurie Chen in Beijing and Jessie Pang, Joyce Zhou and Marcus Lum in Hong Kong; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Clarence Fernandez)

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