China's top legislative advisory body has opened meetings ahead of the annual Congress this week and was faced with the 14-year-old issue of the government's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. Families of 12 missing democracy activists are asking for a public accounting as China prepares to appoint a new generation of Communist leaders.
Vice Chairman Li Guixian called to order the more than 2,200 delegates to the top legislative advisory committee, called the Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee, in Beijing on Monday.
The CPPCC, which draws members from all provinces and segments of Chinese society, is meeting for its annual session to advise the National People's Congress on issues.
The Congress opens officially on Wednesday and is supposed to usher in the most sweeping leadership changes in more than a decade.
This new generation of Communist Party leaders will have to cope with vast economic changes brought about by China's joining the World Trade Organization and social problems sparked by the shift to a market economy. They include growing unemployment, labor unrest, and how to include a new element - private businessmen - into the one-party system founded on anti-capitalist principles.
As legislative advisors opened meetings at the Great Hall of the People there was no mention of the bloody crackdown of democracy protesters in nearby Tiananmen Square 14 years ago.
But the families of some of those killed and missing say they want to know what happened to 12 activists who are still not accounted for.
The U.S.-based group Human Rights in China says about 115 members of a group called the Tiananmen Mothers signed a petition and handed it to the Congress on Monday. The letter also calls on the National People's Congress to identify which leaders were responsible for the brutal repression that left hundreds dead and to hold them legally accountable.
The current chairman of the NPC, Li Peng, was the man who introduced martial law ahead of the Army's advance on the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. He is expected to step down at the legislative session.
Chinese leaders have said the crackdown was justified in order to deal with the threat from counter-revolutionary forces that endangered social stability and consider the matter is closed. There is no indication that China's new leaders will take up the issue.