Hong Kong, June 5 (IANS) Tens of thousands of people gathered in Hong Kong on Tuesday to mark the 30th anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Hong Kong and Macau are the only places in China where people can commemorate the activists killed in 1989.
China has never given an official figure for how many people died, but estimates begin in the hundreds.
Organisers say 180,000 people took part in a vigil, centred in the city’s Victoria Park. But police put the number of attendees at less than 40,000.
Elsewhere in China, the authorities have banned even oblique references to the crackdown, which took place after weeks of mass protests that were tolerated by the government, the BBC reported.
The numbers gathered in and around the square in 1989 are estimated to have reached a peak of one million people.
Hundreds of security personnel and police were monitoring the square in Beijing on Tuesday.
Hong Kong’s Victoria Park is once again a sea of candlelight as far as the eye can see. The crowd, many dressed in black, is mostly silent whilst holding up their candles in mourning. Some are crying. In between protest songs, they chant “the people will not forget”.
The crowd claps and cheers when Liane Lee – who took part in the 1989 protests – shouts: “We refuse to forget. We refuse to believe the lies”.
Standing watching is Teresa Chan. She has attended the commemoration every year since 1990, except once when she was ill.
“I wanted to go Beijing to be with the movement but I couldn’t,” she says. “I never imagined it would end the way it did, it’s very hard to forget.”
But there are also new faces in the crowd this year.
Leung, who is in her 30s, says she decided to come for the first time because she is worried about Hong Kong’s future.
“I am very angry with what the Chinese government is doing here,” she says.
Amongst the remembrance flowers and candles, there are posters protesting against proposed amendments to laws concerning extraditions to mainland China. Many fear the changes will lead to the further erosion of civil liberties in Hong Kong.
The protests in Hong Kong come at a sensitive time for Hong Kong’s leadership, with public backlash over a proposed bill that would allow fugitives captured in the city to be extradited to mainland China.
Smaller vigils are also expected 64 kms away in Macau’s city centre, and on the self-governing island of Taiwan.
The Tiananmen anniversary earlier prompted a war of words between Washington and Beijing. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticised China’s human rights record and called on it to finally reveal how many people died in the crackdown.
In response, a Chinese embassy spokesman in Washington DC said his comments were “an affront to the Chinese people”.
On Tuesday, China issued separate travel warnings to its citizens travelling to the US, citing police harassment and crime.
Its foreign ministry accused American law enforcement agencies of “harassing” Chinese citizens in the US through immigration checks and other methods.