Monday, June 1, 2009

Thousands march in Hong Kong to mark Tiananmen crackdown

(SMH) -Thousands of protesters marched through Hong Kong on Sunday to commemorate the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing 20 years ago, including one of the leaders from Tiananmen Square.

Organisers said around 5000 people rallied through the streets of the city to mark the anniversary of the military crackdown, which left hundreds, possibly thousands dead following weeks of protests in the capital.

Among the marchers was Xiong Yan, a leading student protester during the 1989 demonstrations who now lives in exile in the United States.

He was surprisingly allowed into Hong Kong on Saturday.

Lee Cheuk-yan, a pro-democracy legislator in Hong Kong and one of the organisers of the annual march, said it was crucial that the city continued to mark the events of 20 years ago.

"We are the only place on Chinese soil that can commemorate June 4," he told AFP.

"Hong Kong has become the conscience of China to remember ... the crime of the Tiananmen Square massacre and push the regime (in Beijing) to admit their mistakes."

The attendance at the march was sharply up on last year's figures. An annual candlelit vigil on Thursday is expected to attract tens of thousands.

Xiong, who was put on a list of the authorities' 21 "most-wanted" student protesters after the occupation of Tiananmen was broken up, spent two years in jail before being smuggled to the US via Hong Kong.

His entry was unexpected because of China's sensitive attitude to any criticism of the crackdown. Other 1989 campaigners have been refused entry in the past.

"I was very surprised as I have tried many, many times to come," said Xiong, who arrived on Saturday night, the first time he had set foot on Chinese soil in 17 years.

"I hope in the future I can not only go to Hong Kong, but also to Beijing," he added.

The marchers gathered in the city's Victoria Park, waving banners with slogans such as "Pass the torch on, relay the message of democracy to those who come after us" and "Speak the truth, never forget".

The rally included a small group of mainland Chinese students, who wore T-shirts citing former Communist leader Mao Zedong: "Whoever suppresses student movements is going to have a bad ending."

"I am very excited to see so many people, as this is forbidden on the mainland," said one of the students, 20, who did not want to be named.

"(It shows) there is hope," he added.

Meanwhile, a Danish sculptor who flew to Hong Kong to protest the bloody crackdown was refused entry.

Jens Galschiot, whose sculpture commemorating those who died in the 1989 military crackdown, Pillar of Shame, is displayed at Hong Kong University, was stopped by officials Saturday and sent back to Zurich, an immigration spokesman confirmed.

Albert Ho, chairman of the Democratic Party and a lawyer, said the Dane was detained for five hours before being put on a flight to Zurich late on Saturday. Ho said he was looking at possible legal action over the decision.

Hong Kong has a different legal system from the mainland, including the right to protest.

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