Friday, June 5, 2009

Still no faith in the death toll 20 years on

Show of force...Chinese paramilitary police in uniform and plain clothes
marched past the public after a flag-raising ceremony in Tiananmen Square yesterday.
Photo: Reuters

(SMH) - John Garnaut Herald Correspondent in Beijing

THE Chinese Communist Party left nothing to chance for the 20th anniversary of the June 4 massacre yesterday, packing Tiananmen Square with hundreds, or thousands, of security men.

At noon tourists in and around the square were outnumbered by blue-uniformed police and armed police in green uniforms.

The blue and green security forces were vastly outnumbered by young officers in plain clothes who loitered every five or 10 metres across the vast square and nearby public spaces.

Each plain-clothes officer was identifiable by a light-blue sun umbrella and a small imitation-brass badge with the red flag of China, just like the ones found at Chinese flea markets.

Those sporting larger badges on their chests had relatively large physiques and appeared to be connected to the armed police as they mingled with and supplied water to their uniformed comrades.

One red-badged young man rolled up his umbrella and held it against his armpit, as if it were a gun, before refocusing and resuming his tourist guise.

Eighteen municipal government mini vans lined up on the east side of the Monument to the People's Heroes, pot-bellied officials sprawling inside the air-conditioned vans as plain-clothes men complained of the heat out.

Some genuine tourists were annoyed by the security turnout.

"Are you serious? You want me to open my shirt? Do you think I'm carrying dynamite?" an elderly Chinese woman asked as she went through an X-ray machine at one of the security screening gates to the square.

"Why are there so many police?" a male visitor asked.

"Today there are foreigners coming," came the reply.

Some are no doubt drawn to the square by historical curiosity or respect for friends and countrymen slaughtered here 20 years ago by the People's Liberation Army. Others, particularly those from out of town, are unaware of the crackdown that changed the course of history.

Yesterday was not the time to distinguish who was who.

"Yeah, I've heard of it, but I'm really not too clear about it," said one young visitor from Inner Mongolia, who gave his family name as Dong. "The square has changed a lot," he said, as a red-badged man shuffled into listening distance.

In Washington leaders of the Tiananmen Square uprising - including Wang Dan, the student leader who was expelled from China in 1998 - were joined by US leaders in demanding that China account for its bloody crackdown.

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. said: "A China that has made enormous progress economically and is emerging to take its rightful place in global leadership should examine openly the darker events of its past." She called on China to state for the first time how many were killed, detained or remain missing "to learn and to heal".

Last night tens of thousands were expected at the annual candlelight vigil in Hong Kong that has become a touchstone for the movement for democracy in China and the campaign to overturn Beijing's official verdict, which condemned the 1989 demonstrations.

with agencies

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