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Silence and heavy security in China and Hong Kong mark 35th anniversary of Tiananmen crackdown

BEIJING (news agencies) — Checkpoints and rows of police vehicles lined a major road leading to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Tuesday as China heightened security on the 35th anniversary of a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests. Hong Kong police took at least two people off the streets as the effort to prevent any public remembrance extended beyond the mainland.

China has long quashed any memory of the crackdown, when the Chinese government ordered in the army to end the months-long protests and uphold Communist rule. An estimated 180,000 troops and armed police rolled in with tanks and armored vehicles, and fired into crowds trying to block them as they pushed toward the student-led demonstration on Tiananmen Square.

The death toll remains unknown to this day. Hundreds, if not thousands are believed to have been killed in an operation that started the night before and ended on the morning of June 4, 1989.

The crackdown became a turning point in modern Chinese history, ending a crisis in favor of Communist Party hardliners who advocated for control instead of political reforms.

The economy boomed in the ensuing decades, turning a once impoverished country into the world’s second largest economy, but societal controls have been tightened since party leader Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.

Across China, the event remains a sensitive and taboo subject that is heavily censored, with any mention on social media quickly erased.

Life went on mostly as normal in the Chinese capital on Tuesday, with tourists lining the streets leading to gates to enter Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, the former imperial palace across from the north side of the square. The subway exit closest to the square was closed, as was a viewing point atop Tiananmen Gate, according to a visitor registration website.

“As to the political disturbance that occurred in the late 1980s, the Chinese government has long had a clear conclusion,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said without elaborating. Asked about Western government statements on the anniversary, she added, “We are firmly opposed to anyone using this as a pretext to attack and smear China and interfere in China’s internal affairs.”

Tiananmen Mothers, a group formed by families of the victims, made an online appeal to the Chinese government to publish the names and numbers of those who died, grant compensation to the victims and their relatives and pursue the legal responsibility of those responsible.

“The June 4 tragedy is a historical tragedy that the Chinese government must face and explain to its people, and some people in the Government at that time should be held legally responsible for the indiscriminate killing of innocents,” the group said in a letter signed by 114 family members and published on its website, which is blocked in China.

Tiananmen memorials have also been scrubbed out in Hong Kong — for years the only place in China where they could take place. A carnival organized by pro-Beijing groups was held Tuesday in a park that for decades was the site of a huge candlelight vigil marking the anniversary.

Officers were out in force in the bustling Causeway Bay shopping district close to the park.

An elderly man was seen being taken away after holding up two hand-written posters. One read: “Remember 89! Mourn 64!” Hong Kong media said that activist Alexandra Wong, popularly known as “Grandma Wong,” was also taken away after she chanted slogans.

An news agencies journalist saw another woman taken away after being searched, and an online Hong Kong media outlet that reported a fourth person was taken away in a police vehicle, but in both cases it was unclear why.

“It’s different from the past,” said Hong Kong resident Keith Law. “Many people seem to act as if there’s nothing happening, including myself.”

Rows of electronic candles lit up the dozens of windows of the American consulate after nightfall, and the British consulate posted an image on the social media platform X of a hand holding up a smartphone with the flashlight turned on and the Roman numerals “VIIV” for 6/4, a reference to the date June 4. Hong Kong is a former British colony.

Some Hong Kong residents remembered the event privately, running 6.4 kilometers (4 miles) on Monday or sharing Tiananmen-related content on social media.

An independent bookstore that displayed “35/5″ on its window — a roundabout reference to the date of the crackdown as May 35th — wrote on Instagram that police officers were stationed outside the shop for an hour on Sunday, during which they recorded the identity details of customers.

Hong Kong’s leader John Lee did not answer directly when asked Tuesday whether residents could still publicly mourn the crackdown. He urged residents not to let down their guard against any attempts to cause trouble.

“The threat to national security is real,” Lee said at a weekly briefing. “Such activities can happen all of a sudden and different people may use different excuses to hide their intention.”


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