Monday, 11 June 2012

China struggles to contain rising ghost of Tiananmen massacre

(, Jun05, 2012) The ghost of the Tiananmen Square massacre of Jun 3-4, 1989 was back to haunt the Chinese leadership which detained hundreds of activists in capital Beijing ahead of the event’s 23rd anniversary. The detentions, reported by the AFP Jun 3, came as the US called on Beijing to release all those who had been jailed over the 1989 protest movement and as Beijing’s mayor at that time said in a book of interviews with him published in Hong Kong that the Tiananmen Square movement could have been resolved without bloodshed.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters were shot and killed by soldiers during the suppression of the 1989 protest which called for accountable governance and an end to official corruption.

Apart from known human rights and democracy activists, petitioners from across the country seeking to be heard by the leadership in Beijing were the primary targets of the repression.  "They brought in a lot of buses and were rounding up petitioners at the Beijing South rail station on Saturday (Jun 3) night," AFP quoted Zhou Jinxia, a petitioner from northeast China's Liaoning province, as saying.

"There were between 600 to 1,000 petitioners from all over China. We were processed, we had to register and then they started sending people back to their home towns," she was quoted as saying.

China still considers the June 4 demonstrations a "counter-revolutionary rebellion" and has refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing or consider compensation for those killed, despite persistent demands by many, including the Tiananmen Mothers, a group formed by families of the massacre victims who themselves continue to face official repression.

Beijing has, in fact, rendered any public discussion of the movement or the massacre off-limits, insisting that the matter had long been resolved and cannot be reopened. However, despite the heightened security, numerous public events have been held around the nation to commemorate the "Tiananmen massacre" and to demand democratic reforms, said the AFP report. They included a meeting of more than 80 rights campaigners in a Beijing square on Jun 2, with the participants carrying banners and shouting slogans calling for a reassessment of the 1989 protests. "We shouted 'down with corruption', and 'protect our rights'," Wang Yongfeng, a Shanghai activist, who attended the protest, was quoted as saying.

A similar protest was reported to have occurred in a park in southeast China's Guiyang city the week before, with police subsequently taking into custody at least four of the organisers of the event.

In numerous other cases, known rights activists were warned or harassed to prevent them from commemorating the massacre in any manner. It cited rights activists and lawyers as saying police had contacted them and warned against participating in activities marking the crackdown. It cited veteran Beijing dissident Hu Jia as saying on his microblog that, as in previous years on the Tiananmen anniversary, police had stepped up security around the homes of numerous political activists and social critics. It also cited another rights defender, Yu Xiaomei from eastern Jiangsu province, as saying she had been followed by three men when she left her home on Jun 4.

Disgraced 1989 Beijing mayor denies role in massacre
In another development, China failed to stop the publication in Hong Kong of a book of interviews with the then mayor of Beijing Mr Chen Xitong who called the Tiananmen bloodshed "a tragedy that could have been avoided and should have been avoided. ... Nobody should have died if it had been handled properly."  But in 1989, Chen gave a lengthy report that, for 23 years, has formed the bedrock of the Communist Party's justification for the use of lethal force against unarmed protesters. He described the street demonstrations by millions of people in Beijing and other Chinese cities as a Western-backed conspiracy orchestrated by a "tiny handful of people". He hailed the crackdown as "correct" and unavoidable.

But now, at the age of 81, battling cancer and fighting to salvage his reputation after a corruption conviction and loss of his Politburo seat in 1995, Chen has disowned that report. He has insisted that he played no role in composing his Jun 1989 report to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and had merely read out — "without changing a single punctuation mark" — a script prepared for him by unnamed "Party center" officials.

The Chinese Premier of the time, Mr Li Peng, known as the "Butcher of Beijing," has said in a diary of his defence of his role in the 1989 massacre, that Chen had been appointed the "chief commander" of the Beijing Martial Law Command Center in preparation of the military attack on Tiananmen. But now Chen has denied this. "I know nothing about this role I supposedly played," he was quoted as saying.

On his part, Li has, in his diary – pirate editions of which had been published in Hong Kong, expressed no remorse over the Tiananmen killings. However, he has defended his actions as those of a dutiful official who simply obeyed orders from the paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, who took all major decisions in China until his death in 1997.
An AP commentary Jun 3 said the gulf between public rhetoric and private reality also adds to pressure on the party to "rehabilitate" the student-led protest movement that is still officially classified as a "counterrevolutionary rebellion." It also cited Chen as suggesting that although officials have banned public discussion of the Tiananmen trauma, they often talk about it among themselves.

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