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Vigil in Hong Kong Commemorates China's Tiananmen Crackdown


Tens of thousands of people turned out for a somber candle-lit vigil in Hong Kong's Victoria Park to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the crackdown on student protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Joseph Popiolkowski reports from Hong Kong that the anniversary has taken on new meaning in Hong Kong after a local politician downplayed the massacre.

The mood was solemn at this annual vigil as the crowd swayed in song. They came to mourn and commemorate, to reflect and stage a show of unity for peace and freedom.

One participant says he was honoring the memories of the dead by attending. He declined to give his name because, he says, the city "has a long memory."

"The Chinese culture's still struggling to come to terms with democracy and it's a long learning process, it is good that we get to enjoy the privilege to remember the events that happened in 1989," he said.

In 1989, student protesters camped out in the square for weeks demanding less corruption among China's ruling elite. But tanks rolled into the square and its surrounding streets on June 4 to crush the demonstration, killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, and provoking international condemnation.

A pro-Beijing politician in Hong Kong, Ma Lik, provoked an outcry when he claimed the events in Tiananmen did not constitute a massacre. Pro-democracy activists say Ma's comments have galvanized support for their cause.

Chinese officials have long characterized the demonstration as subversive and defend the government's response as necessary to ensure public order. They have yet to release a true account of that day, including a reliable count of fatalities.

Albert Ho, chairman of Hong Kong's Democratic Party, says any move toward more freedom in China hinges on the government's acceptance of its past.

"And if the '89 democracy movement is not vindicated, I can hardly see how the government would have the moral conviction and commitment to future development for democracy," said Ho.

This year, as in previous years, saw a clampdown on dissident voices in the mainland.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, has been granted a high degree of autonomy since its return to Chinese rule in 1997. It is the only place under Chinese sovereignty where it is possible to mark the Tiananmen events.