China cracks down on activists, journalists on Tiananmen anniversary

Beijing also lashed out at the US after Secretary of State Clinton said China should examine the "dark events" of its past.

Elizabeth Dalzie/AP
Police stop journalists from reporting near Tiananmen gate, opposite Tiananmen square in Beijing on Thursday. Foreign journalists were barred from the square as uniformed and plainclothes police stood guard on the vast plaza that was the epicenter of the student-led movement crushed by the military on June 4, 1989.

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China on Thursday sent hundreds of police to Beijing's vast Tiananmen Square to prevent disturbances, on the 20th anniversary of a military crackdown that killed hundreds – possibly thousands – of protesters.

Beijing also lashed out at the US after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged China to "examine openly" the events of June 3 and 4, 1989. Her appeal was echoed by the president of Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China claims as its own.

Ms. Clinton and others have used the anniversary to criticize China for neglecting political reforms – a key demand of the 1989 protesters – even while steaming ahead with economic reforms. (See a cartoon on the subject here.)

Agence France-Presse reports that the heart of Beijing was in virtual lockdown as hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police officers enforced order.

Police officers searched bags and even the pockets of thousands of Chinese and foreign tourists streaming through checkpoints to visit the giant plaza, and foreign journalists were barred from entering.
"There are far more police than normal days," said a 35-year-old Chinese man who said he frequently visits the square. "It's because of June 4. It's pretty scary having so much police. There are a lot of plainclothes officers too."

The Associated Press reports that police barred foreign journalists from the square, and threatened some with violence.

Security officials checking passports also blocked foreign TV camera operators and photographers from entering to cover the raising of China's national flag, which happens at dawn every day. Plainclothed officers aggressively confronted journalists on the streets surrounding the square, cursing and threatening violence against them.

The BBC reports that China issued a strong rebuke to Clinton's remarks.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Mrs Clinton said Beijing needed to "provide a public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, both to learn and to heal".

China expressed its "strong dissatisfaction" with her comments.
"The US remarks are groundless accusations against the Chinese government and in contravention of the fundamental norms governing international relations, as well as a gross interference in China's internal affairs," said foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang.
"We urge the US to put aside its political prejudices and correct its mistakes so as to refrain from undermining bilateral relations. "On the political incident that took place in the 1980s, the party and the government have already reached a conclusion," he said.

Taiwan's president Ma Ying-jeou also criticized Beijing in a statement, which the Associated Press cited:

'This painful chapter in history must be faced. Pretending it never happened is not an option,' Mr Ma said in a statement. ...
... As the Chinese leaders have in recent years shown more concern for human rights, Mr Ma said, they should also 'let the facts of past tragic episodes speak for themselves.'

Ties between China and Taiwan have warmed considerably since Ma was elected a year ago, but his comments fulfilled a promise to continue to speak out every year on the massacre's anniversary.

Chinese veterans of the 1989 protests also spoke out. Xiong Yan returned to Hong Kong for the first time to join events marking the anniversary, according to CNN; he's still barred from entering mainland China.

Wang Dan, the most prominent student leader of the Tiananmen demonstrations, spoke recently at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C. think tank, and pinned his hopes for political change in China on the Internet, the foundation's blog The Foundry reports.

"There are two China's now. One China is reality-which is totally controlled by the Communist Party. But there's another China, a China based on the internet. That area I don't see the government being able to control. That's the base of the new social forces," he said. "That's the hope for the civil society and the civil society is the hope for democracy."

China partially or fully blocked many Internet services in the lead-up to the anniversary – including Flickr, Hotmail, and Twitter, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

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