Chinese police prevent demonstrations on Tiananmen anniversary

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The Independent Online

Police prevented dissidents from gathering at homes and seized a campaigner in Tiananmen Square trying to commemorate the democracy movement crushed by the Chinese military 11 years ago.

Police prevented dissidents from gathering at homes and seized a campaigner in Tiananmen Square trying to commemorate the democracy movement crushed by the Chinese military 11 years ago.

Shen Zhidao, a supporter of the outlawed China Democracy Party, ran from several uniformed and plainclothes officers questioning him in the center of the vast square. He scattered a few cloth banners before police grabbed his arms and pushed him into a van.

"Overthrow despotic communism" and "Freedom, democracy, fairness, human rights" read some of the banners Shen had prepared for Sunday's anniversary, the second year in a row he has come to Tiananmen to protest. Last year he opened an umbrella covered with slogans and was promptly arrested.

Police patrolled the square in central Beijing. Plainclothes agents stood in the shade of lampposts to escape the early summer heat. But their numbers were fewer than on previous anniversaries and during recent protests by members of the Falun Gong sect, who have defied a 10-month ban on their group. Three middle-aged women, apparently Falun Gong members, were detained Sunday.

The lower key police presence underscored that the memory of the student-led democracy movement and its bloody end on June 4, 1989, while still strong for some, has faded for many Chinese. New challenges, like Falun Gong or unrest among workers and farmers, now worry the communist government.

Commemorating the 1989 movement remains taboo and dissidents who petition the government for redress are arrested - signs that the government still fears the anniversary could be used to stir up disaffected Chinese.

Hundreds were killed in the assault and thousands jailed in a nationwide crackdown on democracy supporters. The exact number of those killed is not known. The government has never given a full account nor allowed an investigation. It has silenced inquiry by declaring the protests a "counter-revolutionary rebellion."

Police in two cities quashed plans for quiet memorials for the victims of the assault. In the central city of Xi'an, they harassed dissidents planning to meet Saturday night, taking away Ma Xiaoming on Saturday and Fu Shen on Sunday, the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democracy reported.

Eight Protestants who planned to gather for a prayer service at the home of a Christian doctor in Beijing on Saturday night were ordered away by police stationed outside the apartment building, said veteran activist Xu Yonghai.

"This shouldn't be. This was only intended to be a simple gathering. We had no political objective," Xu said Sunday from his office at Ping'an Hospital. He suspected his superiors scheduled him to work Sunday to prevent him from holding any memorials.

Police in Beijing also on Sunday picked up another Protestant activist and took three other democracy campaigners to a small hotel to keep watch on them, the Hong Kong-based center said.

Families of those killed visited graves Sunday, and their supporters overseas launched a Web site to support them. The site, www.FillTheSquare.org, demands the Chinese government allow peaceful public mourning, release of people still in jail over the 1989 protests and end harassment of the families of those killed, New York-based Human Rights in China said.

Activists have laid wreaths and sung songs to commemorate those who died during Beijing's military crackdown at Tiananmen Square.

A black banner reading "Pass the torch through generations" fluttered under the scorching sun at Victoria Park, where dozens of activists prepared for an evening candlelight vigil.

They also passed out computer diskettes with information on the June 4 crackdown to young passers-by.

"We can't rely on those who have experienced June 4, who are now in their 40s and 50s, to be the backbone fighting for democracy forever," said lawmaker and rally organizer Leung Yiu-chung.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people were killed when tanks and troops descended on student-led demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in Beijing in the early hours of June 4, 1989.

Beijing officially regards the pro-democracy demonstrations as an attempt to overthrow the government.

Hong Kong activists hold frequent protests to demand that Beijing release all jailed dissidents and reassess the demonstrations.

Support has dwindled in recent years and their rallies have attracted smaller crowds.

A recent poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong said 36 percent of respondents supported such demonstrations, a drop of 9 percent from last year's 47 percent.

The poll, with a sample size of 1,103, did not give a margin of error.

Fading memories and "the public's bad impression of some June 4 Chinese dissidents in foreign countries" contributed to the drop in support, said Albert Ho, a Hong Kong lawmaker and vice chairman of the popular Democratic Party.

Elsie Leung, the territory's justice secretary, called for patience in the fight for a democratic China.

"We should look forward," she told reporters. "Everybody can see since 1989, China has made big strides in the development of democracy and human rights."

Hong Kong reverted to Chinese from British rule in 1997, but the June 4 issue remains a sensitive one. More than 1 million Hong Kong people rallied to protest the crackdown in 1989. Tens of thousands attended last year's candlelight vigil.

Hong Kong is guaranteed much autonomy after the handover, and anti-China and anti-government protests have remained legal.

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