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Tens of Thousands Rally in Hong Kong Against 1989 Tiananmen Crackdown

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents have joined a vigil marking China's 1989 crackdown on protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, while Beijing police smothered the square to prevent similar memorials.

Organizers of Thursday's vigil said more than 200,000 people gathered in and around Hong Kong's Victoria Park to mark the 20th anniversary of the June 4 crackdown. It was the largest turnout at the annual vigil since it began in 1990.

Police estimated the number of people inside the park at about 63,000. Hong Kong is a former British colony that has retained its freedoms since reverting to Chinese rule in 1997. It is the only part of China that permits commemorations of the 1989 crackdown.

Beijing authorities kept Tiananmen Square open to visitors Thursday, but uniformed and plain-clothed security agents blanketed the area and no acts of protest were reported.

Participants at the Hong Kong vigil turned the park into a sea of candles as they called on Beijing to reverse its classification of the 1989 protests as a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."

The huge crowd listened to audio recordings of the late former Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang, who sided with the 1989 demonstrators. The vigil also featured a rare appearance by a former student leader of the protests, Xiong Yan.

Hong Kong authorities barred other June 4 dissidents from entering the territory ahead of the anniversary.

Washington urged China Wednesday to account for the hundreds of people who were killed or went missing when it sent tanks and troops into the square in 1989 to crush pro-democracy protests.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qing Gang expressed "strong dissatisfaction" with the U.S. demand, accusing Washington of making "groundless accusations" against Beijing.

Qin told reporters Thursday the Chinese government already has reached firm conclusions regarding what its calls the "June 4 incident."

In addition to stepping up security, China forced several leading Chinese dissidents to leave Beijing and confined others to their homes.

Beijing also blocked foreign media reports and social networking Internet sites such as Twitter, in an apparent attempt to prevent discussion of the Tiananmen anniversary.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.