Beijing enacted a security clampdown on Wednesday in anticipation of attempts to publicly commemorate the 25th anniversary of the bloody suppression of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.
Scores of police and paramilitary troops patrolled the vast plaza in the heart of China’s capital city, surrounding streets, stopping vehicles and demanding identification from passers-by.
China allows no public discussion of the events of 3-4 June 1989, when soldiers backed by tanks and armoured personnel carriers fought their way into the heart of Beijing, killing hundreds of unarmed protesters and onlookers.
The government has never released a death toll for one of the darkest chapters in recent Chinese history, but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.
Pleas from relatives for an admission of wrongdoing and for a complete, formal accounting or the number of casualties have been largely ignored and many people have expressed their frustration at being prevented from organizing public memorials.
In pictures: Tiananmen Square massacre 25th anniversary
In pictures: Tiananmen Square massacre 25th anniversary
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A boy and his father are amongst thousands participating in the candlelit vigil in Hong Kong
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Students addressing the crowd to commemorate the massacre
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Thousands of people gathered in Victoria Park in Hong Kong to commemorate the anniversary
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A pro-democracy activist argues with police as he confronts a pro-China group during a rally to mark the 25yr anniversary
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Chinese Paramilitary police officers standing guard near Tiananmen Square
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Tens of thousands of people attend a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong
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Pedestrians walk past a replica tank displayed to symbolise China's June 4, 1989 Tiananmen military crackdown, in Hong Kong
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An activist with tape covering her mouth - symbolising China's attempts to silence protesters - marches through Hong Kong
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Thousands of pro-democracy activists hold banners as they march through Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square massacre
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An activist re-enacts an iconic moment from the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, when a young man blocked the path of Chinese tanks
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Activists carry a mock coffin from Victoria Park
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Pro-democracy activists march through Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square massacre
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Former Chinese dissident leader Wu'er Kaixi (centre) and activists hold a banner as they march during a rally in Tokyo
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...Meanwhile in Tiananmen Square armed Chinese police stand guard. A stepped-up police presence is visible on Beijing's streets
Yin Min, whose 19-year-old son, Ye Weihang, was killed in the crackdown, said she wept in grief as she hugged his ashes at home in the morning.
“I told my son this morning, 'Your mother is powerless and helpless, after more than 20 years I don't even have the chance to appeal for support’,” Yin told the Associated Press in a phone interview from her home in Beijing, crying as she spoke.
“I looked at his ashes, I looked at his old things, and I cried bitterly,” she said.
“How has the world become like this? I don't even have one bit of power. Why must we be controlled so strictly this year?”
Near the square in Beijing, reporters were told to leave following the daily crack-of-dawn flag-raising ceremony and there were no signs of demonstrations or public commemorations. Dozens of dissidents and other critics have already been detained by police, held under house arrest or sent out of the city.
Activists say this year has seen a longer and more restrictive clampdown than usual, reflecting the increasingly conservative political atmosphere under President Xi Jinping, who took office last year.
Yin said the authorities' monitoring of her family intensified this year, with round-the-clock police surveillance that started in April. The relatives' plans for a public memorial like ones they had previously held every five years could not be realized, she said.
“You're not only re-opening my scars, you're spreading salt and chili powder into it,” Yin said she told her minders.
“I said, 'You are too inhuman’.”
Authorities allowed relatives of some of those killed in the crackdown to visit their loved ones' graves, but they had to go quietly and under police escort, according to Zhang Xianling, a member of a group that campaigns for the crackdown's victims.
The run-up to the anniversary has also been marked by tighter controls on the internet, including disruption of Google services, and tougher than normal censorship of the popular Twitter-like microblogging service Weibo.
“This is the 1,008th post that I've had scrubbed today,” complained one Weibo user, attaching a screen shot of a message received from censors telling him that his post reading ‘It's been 25 years since that event’ had been deleted.
China's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday defended the crackdown, saying the government had chosen the correct path for the sake of the people. The government at the time labelled the pro-democracy movement “counter-revolutionary”.
The protests began in April 1989 as a demonstration by university students in Beijing to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, the reformist Communist Party chief who had been ousted by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. The protests grew into broader demands for an end to corruption as well as calls for democracy.
Many Chinese would balk at the idea of mass revolution today. China is now the world's second biggest economy, with most Chinese enjoying individual and economic freedoms never accorded them before.
But Wu'er Kaixi, a leading figure in the pro-democracy movement of 1989, said Chinese people could rise up once more against the Communist Party in anger at anything from endemic graft to the country's badly polluted air, water and soil.
“Yes, you gave us economic freedom, but you are jumping in and looting us, robbing us of our future, corrupting the culture, our values and the environment,” Wu'er Kaixi told Reuters ahead of the anniversary from Taiwan, where he works at an investment firm.
“All this has been clearly and widely expressed by Chinese people in the last two decades. This discontent will emerge into one thing one day: a revolution. I am sure the Communist Party is very well aware of this.”
Meanwhile, exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama urged China to embrace democracy and offering prayers for the protest “martyrs”.
The Dalai Lama, reviled by Beijing as a separatist, made the rare comments at a prayer meeting two years after he renounced politics.
“I offer my prayers for those who died for freedom, democracy and human rights,” the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner said according to a statement that was released by Initiatives for China, a Washington-based group that campaigns for a peaceful transition to democracy in China.
“While great progress has been made to integrate into the world economy, I believe it is equally important to encourage China to enter the mainstream of global democracy,” he added.
“In this anniversary of China's young martyrs, let us pray that the Chinese leaders of today would turn their hearts away from fear and defensiveness, that they would reach out to the victims and victims' families, and repent of the massacre of China's youth.”
A representative of the Dalai Lama's private office in Dharamsala, his base in northern India, confirmed that the statement was authentic.
China's Foreign Ministry condemned the comments.
Additional reporting by agencies