China takes no chances in Tiananmen anniversary

AS CHINA braces this week for the 10th anniversary of the brutal Tiananmen crackdown, the aftermath of Nato's bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade has left the country's embattered political activists on the defensive.

The upsurge of patriotic indignation could not have come at a more convenient time for China's leadership. Encouraged by the state-controlled media, anti-American nationalism has provided a diversion ahead of the anniversary, which the government could previously only have dreamt of.

"It is a big setback for the democratic movement in China," said Yang Hai, a 31-year-old political commentator in the western Chinese city of Xian.

But China's leaders are still taking no chances. No public commemorations will be permitted as Pekingers and relatives silently mark the 10 years since the People's Liberation Army turned its guns on unarmed pro- democracy dem-onstrators and bystanders on 4 June 1989, killing hundreds, possibly thousands.

The security apparatus is working overtime. Dissidents are being rounded up and labour rights campaigners have gone on trial for "subversion". One man, Zhang Youju, has been jailed for four years just for posting leaflets calling on the government to revise the official verdict on the 1989 movement as "counter-revolutionary".

Down on Tiananmen Square itself, where millions of students and workers converged during the pro-democracy demonstrations of spring 1989, corrugated fences have been in place for months, keeping the vast space sealed off from the public until July. Out of sight, hundreds of workers are busy laying new granite paving stones ahead of this year's other anniversary, the 1 October 50th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic, which China's leaders will, in sharp contrast, celebrate very publicly with a lavish gala.

About 50 dissidents have been detained by police for questioning and warning in recent days, of whom 15 remain in custody. Jiang Qisheng, 50, who had publicly called on Chinese to light candles and forgo all entertainment to mark Friday's anniversary, is one of those now being held in Peking. Mr Jiang had also recently written an open letter after the recent four- day detention of Cao Jiahe, a magazine editor who circulated a petition this month to commemorate the hundreds of civilians killed in the Tiananmen assault. Mr Cao was kept blindfolded and tied by belts at a Peking house, kicked and denied sleep. "Cao Jiahe's whole body was black and blue. His skin was torn and cut. He was too horrible to look at," Mr Jiang wrote.

The Chinese communist party fears dissidents and intellectuals will join forces with the millions of disgruntled laid-off workers who are finding life much harder than before. Three labour-rights campaigners were put on trial last week on the serious charge of subversion, for allegedly trying to organise protests by laid-off workers at a state-run firm in Tianshui city, 700 miles west of Peking.

Wang Dan, an exiled student leader from 1989, said: "As the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre approaches, the Chinese government has intensified its suppression of the dissident movement in China."

An extensive network of contacts between dissidents inside China and exiled former colleagues means Peking is not able to stifle all information. This week, in New York, a list of about 155 people who were killed in 1989 will be published by bereaved relatives, and Amnesty International has compiled details of 241 Chinese still in prison in connection with the 1989 movement. The total number of dead and imprisoned is much higher, but the Chinese have rejected all calls for an investigation into the real toll. Li Hai, a former graduate student, was sentenced to nine years in May 1996 for collecting information on people still in jail.

Peking is sticking to its line that a decade of economic development and stability would have not been possible without "decisive" action in 1989.

"The Communist Party and government of China have made a correct and historical conclusion on the political turmoil which took place in the summer of 1989," said Zhu Bangzao, the Foreign Ministry spokesman. "It is a conclusion which is supported by all Chinese people and it will never be changed."

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