Zhao is cremated amid tight security

The former Chinese Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang, dismissed in 1989 for sympathising with Tiananmen Square democracy activists, was cremated yesterday amid the kind of bizarre circumstances befitting a fallen leader in this enigmatic state.

The former Chinese Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang, dismissed in 1989 for sympathising with Tiananmen Square democracy activists, was cremated yesterday amid the kind of bizarre circumstances befitting a fallen leader in this enigmatic state.

The public were not told of the memorial service, and police kept any but the most reliable elements away. It was accompanied by the release of an official obituary notice that conceded the fact of Zhao's death nearly two weeks after the event, declaring that he had made "serious mistakes" in government.

Hundreds of government-approved mourners, many in tears, filed through a memorial hall and bowed before Zhao's body at Beijing's Babaoshan Cemetery, the main burial site for revolutionary heroes.

There were no eulogies, possibly owing to a dispute over how to officially remember Zhao, who helped to launch China's economic boom but was accused of endangering Communist rule by expressing sympathy with the Tiananmen Square protesters.

The government has said little about Zhao since his death on 17 January, aged 85, apparently anxious to avoid stirring up memories of the leader who became a symbol of hope for political reform. Zhao spent his last 15 years under house arrest.

The government's obituary praised his "valuable contributions" to economic reform but criticised his conduct in 1989. "During the political disturbance, which occurred in the spring and summer period of 1989, Comrade Zhao Ziyang made serious mistakes," it said, without elaborating further.

The government didn't tell the public of plans for the memorial service. Police told activists in advance that they couldn't go, according to Frank Lu, a Hong Kong-based activist. At the cemetery, security agents demanded identification from mourners. Reporters were ordered to leave. Hundreds of police stood along the main avenue outside the cemetery.

Inside the hall, mourners filed past the body. A photo above it showed Zhao dressed casually in a blue denim shirt. The walls were lined with funeral wreaths, including one from the office of the ruling party's Central Committee. Zhao's children - four sons and a daughter - shook hands with passing mourners.

Zhao helped to launch reforms in the 1980s as premier and then party leader under the then supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, opening China to the world and letting millions lift themselves out of poverty. But he fell out of favour with Deng and was purged on 24 June 1989, after the military crushed the protests, killing hundreds and possibly thousands of people. He was accused of "splitting the party".

It wasn't immediately clear where Zhao's final resting place would be. Relatives wanted his ashes interred in the section of the Babaoshan cemetery reserved for state leaders, according to Mr Lu. He said that if they weren't, the family planned to take them home.

¿ The first Chinese commercial plane to fly direct to Taiwan for more than 55 years touched down yesterday in Taipei, the capital of the democratic island that Beijing claims as a renegade province. The China Southern Airlines Boeing,with Taiwanese businesspeople and their families aboard, landed at Chiang Kai-shek international airport after a 90-minute flight from the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.

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