A wreath pays unintended tribute to Tiananmen martyrs

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FIVE years to the day after the tanks started to roll through the streets of Peking, killing hundreds, even thousands of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators, a single wreath was laid yesterday in Tiananmen Square.

It was not the ceremony that many would have wanted. With Peking in the grip of a massive security clampdown, the Chinese government for some strange reason chose 3 June to invite King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia to lay a wreath at the Monument to the People's Heroes in the centre of the square.

The obelisk is dedicated to important revolutionary events in the founding of the People's Republic. The Cambodian monarch spends much of his time in Peking, and his lengthy stays are not normally accorded the status of state visits.

But for the Chinese government, yesterday's wreath-laying ceremony was a good excuse to temporarily clear the whole square of people.

The parents of one of the victims of the night of June 3- 4 1989 commemorated the event with a hunger strike in protest at harassment by public security officials.

Professor Ding Zilin, 57, and her husband have consumed only water since Thursday evening and they intend to continue their fast until Sunday. Their 17-year- old son was shot dead just before midnight five years ago.

The couple have been under round-the-clock surveillance for days, and since Thursday lunchtime have been unable to make even outgoing telephone calls.

Professor Ding has over the past five years attempted to compile a list of victims of the June 1989 crackdown, which the government has not provided.

As night fell yesterday, the security net was drawn even tighter around Peking. In the university district, armed police set up road blocks to prevent foreigners from entering the area. Uniformed and plainclothes officials were conspicuous along the main roads and in areas deemed to be 'sensitive'.

The clampdown on the foreign media has also intensified. On Thursday night the hotels were ordered to pull the plug on their Cable Network News (CNN) television channels until Monday.

In the compounds where foreigners are forced to live, CNN was still broadcast but the screens went blank whenever a news item on China started.

The Chinese authorities are determined to stop television footage of June 1989, which shows the army shooting unarmed civilian protesters, from being shown.

Yesterday morning an American television crew was detained for two hours. They were forced to hand over their tape showing the heavy police presence in Tiananmen Square.

The security clampdown seems so excessive, given the scant chance that any dissidents will mount a symbolic gesture, that some China watchers suggest the past week may have been a dry run for the day when China's 89- year-old paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, dies.

'Maybe they need to practise this sort of co-ordinated effort,' one analyst suggested.

The authorities have even cancelled a violin concert in the Peking Concert Hall planned for tonight.

Some events must go on, however. By 7.30 yesterday evening, the daily Chinese flag-lowering ceremony was about to start in Tiananmen Square, just across the road from the huge portrait of Mao Tse-tung that still hangs above the entrance to the Forbidden City.

Half the crowd were watching the flag-lowering ceremony. The other half, mostly wearing white shirts and blue trousers, were watching, photographing and videoing them, just in case.