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Taiwan president vows to remember China's Tiananmen crackdown

By AFP

June 4, 2024 06:49 PM


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Taiwan's new President Lai Ching-te said Tuesday that the memory of Beijing's deadly crackdown at Tiananmen Square "will not disappear in the torrent of history", in a post marking the event's 35th anniversary.

Chinese troops and tanks forcibly dispersed peaceful protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, quelling huge, weeks-long demonstrations demanding greater political freedoms. Decades on, China still censors any mention of the crackdown.

In Hong Kong, once the sole place on Chinese soil where public commemoration was allowed, an annual vigil has been banned, and AFP journalists on Tuesday saw dozens of police patrolling the area where tens of thousands previously gathered to mourn the dead.

Since May when Lai was sworn in as Taiwan's president, China has repeatedly lashed out against him, branding him a "dangerous separatist" and a "saboteur of peace and stability".

His inauguration prompted Beijing to launch military drills around the self-ruled island, which China claims as part of its territory.

"We will continue to work hard to keep this historical memory alive and touch everyone who cares about Chinese democracy," Lai said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

"Because this reminds us that democracy and freedom are not easy to come by, we must... respond to autocracy with freedom, face the expansion of authoritarianism with courage."

Lai's Democratic Progressive Party has long defended the sovereignty and democracy of Taiwan, which has its own government, military and currency.

In his post, Lai said "a truly respectable country is one where people speak out".

"Any regime should face up to the voice of the people... because social change often depends on diverse opinions," he added.

Taiwan held an annual vigil to mark Tiananmen on Tuesday evening at Taipei's Chiang Kai-shek memorial hall. Nearby earlier in the day, tourists took photos of exhibited images from the day of the crackdown. 

 Tourists at Tiananmen 

 China's Tiananmen crackdown killed hundreds of people, with some estimating the death toll was higher than a thousand.

Beijing described the events as riots, while rights groups and exiled dissidents depict it as a massacre of innocent people, including many students.

Many young people today in China are unaware of the 1989 events due to the wide-reaching censorship.

In Beijing on Tuesday, tourist groups visited Tiananmen Square donning matching neon hats and posing for pictures beside the mausoleum of China's founding leader Mao Zedong.

The police presence was no heavier than usual at the square, with officers posted at every corner, some directing traffic while others observed passers-by through binoculars.

The Tiananmen Mothers, a group comprised of relatives of victims of the 1989 crackdown, called for the tragedy to be resolved "in an open, fair and just manner" in a statement Tuesday.

"We shall never allow your lives to be sacrificed in vain. The historical tragedy must not repeat," it said.

Australia's foreign minister Penny Wong said the international community remembers "the tragic events and loss of life on 4 June 1989", while the British and US consulates in Hong Kong posted images on Facebook -- the symbol "VIIV" and a lit candle -- signifying remembrance of the day.

Asked about the anniversary, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said "the Chinese government has long since reached a clear conclusion".

"We have always opposed anyone using this as a pretext to attack and smear China and to interfere in China's internal affairs," spokeswoman Mao Ning said Tuesday.

 Detentions 

 Activist groups from London to Washington are planning events to commemorate the crackdown.

But in Hong Kong, a carnival promoting food and culture of Chinese cities occupied Victoria Park.

Once the site of an annual vigil that would see tens of thousands gather, the mass mourning was a symbol of Hong Kong's unique freedoms.

But commemoration has been banned since 2020, the year that Beijing imposed a national security law to quell dissent.

Police did not respond to queries on deployment numbers in the district near Victoria Park, but said it was done "in accordance with the threats to public safety, public order and national security".

Edwin Lau, an editor passing through the area Tuesday who was stopped and searched by police, said he used to attend the yearly vigil.

But now "we can resort to other ways" of commemoration, he told AFP.

The night before, Hong Kong artist Sanmu Chen was briefly detained after he appeared to trace the Chinese characters for "8964" -- representing the anniversary's date -- in the air.

In the week leading up to the anniversary, Hong Kong police arrested eight people over commemorating the Tiananmen crackdown on social media, with authorities accusing them of publishing "seditious" online posts.


AFP


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