BEIJING – Chinese police blocked the gate of a cemetery holding the remains of victims of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown on its 24th anniversary Tuesday, ahead of a vigil expected to see 150,000 people gather in Hong Kong.
Authorities launch a major push every June 4 to prevent discussion of the widely condemned bloody crackdown on prodemocracy protests. Hundreds, possibly thousands, are thought to have been killed in the violence.
Hong Kong and Macau both enjoy special privileges and are the only two cities in China where open commemorations are possible, and the large candlelit vigil in the former British colony is a rallying point for critics of Beijing’s influence.
In the Chinese capital, more than a dozen security officials were deployed outside the stone gate at the Wanan graveyard in the city’s west, where members of Tiananmen Mothers, a group of victims’ relatives, visit each year.
English-speaking police officers barred entry to reporters, demanding to see identification and telling a videographer to stop filming.
In a narrow street close to Beijing’s Forbidden City, security personnel patrolled outside the former home of Zhao Ziyang, the former Communist Party secretary who was purged and held under house arrest following the protests.
Individuals in civilian clothes sought to block reporters from filming in the area, as a petitioner was taken away.
Several police vehicles were positioned on Tiananmen Square itself, a vast concrete plaza in the center of the capital, where huge video screens celebrated “Green Beijing” with images of a spinning wind turbine.
Hundreds of mostly Chinese tourists strolled, posing with national flags and snapping pictures on smartphones. Some had their identification cards checked by police.
The uniformed police numbers were no higher than usual, a snack vendor who asked not to be named said. But he added: “Most police are plainclothes, you don’t know when they might be listening.”
The Tiananmen protests were the Communist Party’s greatest crisis since coming to power in 1949.
Former party Chairman Deng Xiaoping justified the military intervention — which saw more than 200,000 troops deployed — as being against a “counterrevolutionary rebellion,” but discussion of the incident has been so widely suppressed that most young Chinese are barely aware of it.
Beijing has never provided an official toll for the repression, which was condemned worldwide and led to its temporary isolation on the international stage.
Unofficial estimates of the numbers killed range from around 200 to more than 3,000. The Tiananmen Mothers said in an open letter last week that they believed the higher figure is accurate.