HK activists call for freedom, mark Tiananmen crackdown

Elaine Kurtenbach,HONG KONG, AP

Exercising freedoms denied to mainland Chinese, thousands of Hong Kong residents gathered Tuesday for a candlelight vigil to mark the 13th anniversary of the military crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square.

This year, World Cup soccer seemed to dominate the news, as fans abandoned offices, mahjong parlors, and theaters to see mainland China lose to Costa Rica, 0-2 in an afternoon match that ended hours before the twilight ceremonies in leafy Victoria Park.

In Beijing, where the regime suppresses all efforts to mark the anniversary, security was tighter than usual around Tiananmen Square. But there were no reports of protests in Beijing or elsewhere in China, where most attention appeared focused on China’s debut in the World Cup.

Local media reported that 10,000 Hong Kong residents turned out to mourn the army assault which killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unarmed demonstrators on June 4, 1989. Official attendance figures were not available. Last year, around 40,000 people participated.

As patriotic songs reverberated through surrounding skyscrapers, participants young and old, Chinese and foreign, filed quietly into a paved plaza in the park.

“True patriotism is when you stand up for what you believe in, even if it costs you your life. I really respect the Tiananmen demonstrators and I come each year to bow to them,” said Stephanie Cheung, holding one flickering candle among thousands.

Hong Kong’s annual June 4 rallies began in 1989 when more than 1 million Hong Kong citizens gathered in protest. With the number dwindling to the thousands, lawmaker and rally organizer Szeto Wah urged those attending to educate the next generation to “take up the baton of democracy.”

“No matter how difficult the road, we will achieve our goal of democracy for China,” Szeto said.

Amid extensive World Cup coverage in the Ming Pao newspaper was a half-page memorial ringed in black that read: “The memory of June 4 will remain forever.” It was signed by dozens of churches, activist groups and individuals.

The opposition Frontier Party issued a statement demanding that the central government stop suppressing dissidents in the mainland, who face harassment, jail or exile for defying a ban on public dissent.

The statement also urged Beijing to “reverse its verdict” on the June 4 protests, which Communist Party leaders branded an attempt to overthrow the government. The government contends troops had to restore stability by violently ending weeks of massive demonstrations demanding more political openness in China.