Tiananmen Square: As Peking forbids public remembrance of the massacre, 40,000 Hong Kong marchers defy China

Colony takes last stand over martyrs

By any standards it was an extraordinary act of defiance. As many as 40,000 Hong Kong people last night ignored China's repeated warnings not to meddle in its internal affairs by gathering to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of democracy protesters.

This may prove to be the last large-scale gathering of its kind for many years as China is likely to ban democracy rallies once it resumes sovereignty over the colony. China's allies have urged the people of Hong Kong to put the events of 1989 behind them but last night's rally, larger than that of the previous year, suggests the massacre remains a vivid memory.

A sea of candles swayed in the sticky night air as an emotional crowd sang patriotic songs and listened intently to speeches by leaders of Hong Kong's democracy movement, branded as subversives by China.

The demonstrators were well aware of the risks. Strategically located police video cameras captured their faces on film. The government says the footage will not be handed to the Chinese authorities but this assertion is met with derision. "I don't care if they see my face," said one woman. "I am not ashamed to be here remembering those who fell for democracy." She was, however, cautious enough not to give her name.

Although the local pro-Peking media has tried to suggest that the democracy protesters have dwindled to a small fringe, it was a remarkable cross section of the community which assembled last night. Mobile phone-wielding executive types mingled with T-shirt-clad workers; children were dragged along with their parents, and elderly couples rested on newspapers spread to break the discomfort of a long sit on the warm asphalt football pitches in Victoria Park.

Lee Cheuk-yan, one of the demonstration's organisers, said the rally showed that Hong Kong people had not forgotten the Tiananmen Square massacre, nor would they be intimidated into silence. A school teacher said he was at the rally because it was his duty to remember and he feared that he would not be allowed to do so in public next year.

In China, tight policing ensured that there were no public demonstrations commemorating the massacre. Chinese leaders have not forgiven the people of Hong Kong for holding massive demonstrations in 1989 and appear anxious for the day when they will be able to exercise the kind of control over the colony's people which restricts the citizens of the Chinese mainland.

They will be helped by Hong Kong's Urban Council which has indicated that it will not accept a booking for the rally in Victoria Park next year as the park will be required for celebrations to mark the transfer of power on 1 July 1997.

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