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China Defends Tiananmen Crackdown Following Zhao's Death

  • Luis Ramirez

China is defending its 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square following the death this week of purged Communist Party leader.

The comments came as the Chinese government downplayed the life and career of the former leader because of fears that his passing might trigger new protests.

The death of 85-year-old former party leader Zhao Ziyang revived old questions of whether the Chinese government would reassess the 1989 student-led demonstrations. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, were killed when the government used guns and tanks against mostly young, unarmed demonstrators in what officials term a counterrevolutionary rebellion.

Hardliners purged Mr. Zhao, then the Communist Party leader, and placed him under house arrest for opposing the armed crackdown. His name has been a rallying cry for those demanding a reassessment of the Tiananmen protest.

At a regular briefing Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan defended the government's actions.

"The political disturbance and the problem of Zhao himself have already passed. What happened in 1989 reached its conclusion. The past 15 years have shown China's decision was correct. China's stability and development are in the interest of China and of the whole world," he concluded.

The government has done everything possible to make sure that Mr. Zhao's death goes unnoticed. Newspapers in the Chinese capital Tuesday made only brief mention of his passing, saying only that he died Monday at age 85, of an illness. Before 1989, Mr. Zhao was widely respected for carrying out economic and other reforms.

With his name virtually erased from the public eye over the past decade and a half, many young Chinese recall him only vaguely. Twenty-seven-year-old Yang Yang is an office worker in Beijing who says she has never really given any thought to Zhao Ziyang's role in modern Chinese history.

"My generation knows the name Zhao Ziyang because of the Tiananmen thing," he said. "However, at that time I and others my age were only children so our memory of him is very little. We do know who Zhao Ziyang was, but we do not really care."

Despite such attitudes, the government remains concerned that Mr. Zhao's death might trigger new disturbances.

Seeking to keep away anyone who might want to pay tribute, police remained posted on Tuesday outside the home near Tiananmen Square where the former party leader was detained for the last 15 years of his life. Mr. Zhao's family said it would not ask the government for a state funeral and instead invited his friends and the general public to a memorial service at the family home.

No date for the service was announced.

Memorial services were planned in Hong Kong, where newspapers on Tuesday were emblazoned with tributes to Zhao Ziyang, calling him a hero and urging Beijing to reconsider its stance on the Tiananmen incident.