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Hong Kong Activists Commemorate Tiananmen Square Crackdown - 2002-06-04

Thousands of Hong Kong activists are remembering the Tiananmen Square crackdown on the Beijing pro-democracy movement of 1989. Hong Kong traditionally marks the June 4 anniversary of the Chinese military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement with a candlelight vigil to mourn those who died.

Hong Kong's annual June 4 movement began in 1989 when more than one million Hong Kong residents gathered to protest Beijing's use of military force.

Thirteen years later, the candlelight vigil is the largest of all demonstrations in Hong Kong and is the only pro-democracy protest of this magnitude in China.

Even though Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule five years ago, it is governed under a separate and autonomous system that guarantees civil liberties, such as the freedom of assembly and speech not granted to mainland Chinese.

Lee Cheuk-Yan is one of the founding members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic and Democratic movements in China, which organizes the annual rally.

"When we are promoting democracy in China you can not say it is anti-China. It is actually very much pro-China, but of course we are against the regime and the system that massacred the people and denied the people its basic rights," Mr. Lee said.

Last year about 40,000 people joined the vigil, a record low when compared to the hundreds of thousands who attended the rally in the 1990s.

One academic at Hong Kong's Baptist University has said lower turnout is partly due to Hong Kong people acknowledging China's economic reform and village-level elections as positive changes. He also said they do not hold the same anti-Beijing sentiment, which was once prevalent.

Michael DeGolyer is the director of the Hong Kong Transition Project, which tracks public opinion in the territory. "There were a lot of people who came to these vigils prior to the 1997 hand-over as an expression of opposition to Beijing's interference in Hong Kong affairs. But since 1997 the central government has pretty much stayed out of Hong Kong affairs. So as a vigil about change of the Communist Party, and keeping the Communist Party out of Hong Kong, that reason has disappeared and along with it has gone a lot of the people who used to come," he said.

Hong Kong political parties pushing for democratic reforms in mainland China continue to call for Beijing to reverse its verdict that the 1989 pro-democracy protests were aimed at toppling the government.

After weeks of massive demonstrations to push for greater openness 13 years ago, Chinese tanks and soldiers moved to crush the student-led democracy movement around Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Hundreds, possibly thousands were killed.