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On Anniversary of Tiananmen Square, Relatives Still Seek Justice

In China, relatives of those killed in the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in and around Tiananmen Square are again asking Beijing for justice. Today marks the 14th anniversary of the bloodshed that froze political reform in China.

On June 4, 1989, Chinese troops used gunfire and armored vehicles to end weeks of protest in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died during the crackdown.

In the weeks leading up to the armored assault on the pro-democracy protests, throngs of activists, students and workers demonstrated against official corruption and inflation and demanded political reforms. Historians say the demonstrations frightened the elderly Communist Party leadership, prompting a hard-line faction to take control and order the armed attack.

One of the first to die in the crackdown was 17-year old Jiang Jielian, who was shot in the back.

Over the past 14 years his mother, 67-year old Ding Zilin, organized more than a hundred relatives of others who died or disappeared in the bloodshed and political turmoil. Ms. Ding was distraught over her son's death, but says other mothers who experienced losses like hers give her comfort and a reason to continue living. And she is spending much of her life in a quest for what she sees as justice.

Shortly after the Tiananmen killings, China justified the bloody crackdown by labeling the unrest a "counter revolutionary rebellion" which endangered the security and stability of China. The Communist Party government has refused all pleas to review the events or punish officials, saying the government's actions were justified and in the interest of the state.

Ms. Ding and other relatives of the dead and missing still persist. In March they sent a letter to the Communist Party Congress, where a new generations of leaders were assuming power in China. The letter asks the new government to help grieving relatives learn what happened to their children the night of June 4, 1989.

Top Chinese officials again rejected the request.

China scholars say the party can not revise its stand on the crackdown without criticizing the just-retired generation of leaders who played major roles in the repression yet brought economic liberalism to the country. Scholars say the leadership fears any criticism would shake the Party's legitimacy and monopoly on power.

So it is not surprising that the long series of letters, petitions, and pleas to reconsider Tiananmen have been ignored. Ms. Ding expresses little faith that China's new leadership will be any more sympathetic than earlier generations. But she says her group will never give up its effort, and is mentally prepared to press on no matter what.

Activists recently asked China's top prosecutor to investigate former Premier Li Peng who led the government in 1989. Mr. Li is the public official most associated with the deadly crackdown and has just retired as head of China's legislature.

Experts on Chinese politics say it is extremely unlikely that the complaints against Mr. Li will be taken seriously or bring any kind of legal action. But an angry Ms. Ding misses her son and says Mr. Li should be held accountable.