Hong Kong 'Umbrella' protests add poignancy to Tiananmen vigil

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Hong Kong 'Umbrella' Protests Add Poignancy to Tiananmen Vigil

Tens of thousands attended a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong on Thursday to mark China's 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing, an anniversary given added poignancy by protests that gripped the Chinese-run city last year.

The political temperature is rising again in Hong Kong ahead of a June 17 vote on a Beijing-vetted electoral package that democrats say makes a mockery of pledges to eventually grant the city universal suffrage.

China sent in tanks to break up the student-led protests in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. China has never released a death toll but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.

Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule under a deal to preserve wide-ranging freedoms, is the only place on Chinese soil where commemorations of June 4 are tolerated. Even discussion of the 1989 protests, termed "counter-revolutionary" by Beijing, is taboo on the mainland.

In Beijing, security was tight at Tiananmen Square, with lines at bag checks hundreds of people long. A Reuters reporter saw a middle-aged woman holding a plastic rose hauled away from a checkpoint by authorities.

"Why won't you let me go? Because you are thugs," the woman yelled, before being dragged away by her arms and legs by three police officers.

The square itself was peaceful, with hundreds of tourists stopping to take photos in a slight drizzle.

At the Hong Kong vigil in the city's harbor-side Victoria Park, tens of thousands gathered to remember the 1989 protests.

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Tiananmen Square Massacre - June 4, 1989 (w/ captions, use this)
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Hong Kong 'Umbrella' protests add poignancy to Tiananmen vigil
A Chinese man stands alone to block a line of tanks heading east on Beijing's Cangan Blvd. in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. The man, calling for an end to the recent violence and bloodshed against pro-democracy demonstrators, was pulled away by bystanders, and the tanks continued on their way. The Chinese government crushed a student-led demonstration for democratic reform and against government corruption, killing hundreds, or perhaps thousands of demonstrators in the strongest anti-government protest since the 1949 revolution. Ironically, the name Tiananmen means "Gate of Heavenly Peace". (AP Photo/Jeff Widener)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY 'China-politics-rights-Tiananmen' by Robert Saiget(FILES) This file photo taken on June 2, 1989 shows hundreds of thousands of Chinese gathering around a 10-metre replica of the Statue of Liberty (C), called the Goddess of Democracy, in Tiananmen Square demanding democracy despite martial law in Beijing. Families of those killed in the crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests on June 2, 2010 demanded China end its silence and open a dialogue on the bloodshed. In an annual open letter, 128 members of the Tiananmen Mothers castigated the Communist Party government for ignoring its calls for openness on the crackdown that occurred June 3-4, 1989 and vowed never to give up their fight. (Photo by CATHERINE HENRIETTE/AFP/Getty Images)
A huge crowd gathers at a Beijing intersection where residents used a bus as a roadblock to keep troops from advancing toward Tiananmen Square in this June 3, 1989 photo. Friday June 4, 1999 is the 10th anniversary of the military assault on pro-democracy protestors who had occupied the square for seven weeks. Hundreds died in the early hours of June 4, 1989 when troops shot their way through Beijing's streets to retake the square. (AP Photo/Jeff Widener)
Enthusiastic demonstrators are cheered by bystanders as they arrive at Tiananmen Square to show support for the student hunger strike, Thursday, May 18, 1989, Beijing, China. Students are striking for government reforms. (AP Photo/Sadayuki Mikami)
A young woman is caught between civilians and Chinese soldiers, who were trying to remove her from an assembly near the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, June 3, 1989. Pro-democracy protesters had been occupying Tiananmen Square for weeks. (AP Photo/Jeff Widener)
An anti-government protester in Beijing holds a rifle in a bus window, June 3, 1989. Pro-democracy protesters had been occupying Tiananmen Square for weeks; hundreds died that night and the following morning in clashes with Chinese troops. (AP Photo/Jeff Widener)
A huge crowd gathers to watch as students protesters burn copies of Beijing Daily in retaliation for anti-student articles in front of the newspaper’s offices on Friday, June 2, 1989 in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jeff Widener)
Supporters of striking Beijing University students head back to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Friday, May 19, 1989. The students are in their sixth day of their hunger strike for political reform. (AP Photo/Jim Palmer)
BEIJING, CHINA - MAY 18: Riding motorbikes, Chinese workers parade through Beijing streets 18 May 1989, in support of student hunger strikers gathered at Tiananmen Square, the scene of the mass pro-democracy protest led by students against the Chinese government. The April-June1989 pro-democracy movement was crushed by Chinese troops in June 1989 when army tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square 04 June. (Photo credit should read CATHERINE HENRIETTE/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - APRIL 27: A police line is squeezed by a crowd of student-led demonstrators at Tiananmen Square 27 April 1989 in Beijing. (Photo credit should read CATHERINE HENRIETTE/AFP/Getty Images)
(FILES) A dissident student asks soldiers to go back home as crowds flooded into the central Beijing 03 June 1989. On the night of 03 and 04 June 1989, Tiananmen Square sheltered the last pro-democracy supporters. Chinese troops forcibly marched on the square to end a weeks-long occupation by student protestors, using lethal force to remove opposition it encountered along the way. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed in the crackdown as tanks rolled into the environs of the square. (Photo credit should read CATHERINE HENRIETTE/AFP/Getty Images)
A student pro-democracy protester flashes victory signs to the crowd as People's Liberation Army troops withdraw on the west side of the Great Hall of the People near Tiananmen Square on Saturday, June 3, 1989 in Beijing. (AP Photo/Mark Avery)
Chinese dissident Wang Dan addresses fellow students during a demonstration in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, in this May 1989 photo. The characters on Wang's headband translate as "hunger strike." Fifteen years after the bloodshed, the exiled student leaders of China's 1989 pro-democracy protesters are settled abroad as academics and entrepreneurs. But they nurture one with above all - to come home to a new system. Wang Dan, a principal strategist for the protests, spent seven years in prison. Now 35, he is working toward a doctorate at Harvard University with a thesis on Chinese politics and history and the democratic movement in Taiwan. (AP Photo)
A student protester puts barricades in the path of an already burning armored personnel carrier that rammed through student lines during an army attack on anti-government demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, early June 4, 1989. A govenment soldier who escaped the armored vehicle was killed by the mob. Pro-democracy protesters occupied the square for seven weeks; hundreds died in the early hours of June 4, 1989 when troops shot their way through Beijing's streets to retake the square. (AP Photo/Jeff Widener)
A man tries to pull a Chinese soldier away from his comrades as thousands of Beijing citizens turned out to block thousands of troops on their way towards Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, June 3, 1989. (AP Photo/Mark Avery)
BEIJING, CHINA - JUNE 3: Exhausted, humiliated soldiers are hustled away by Beijing people in central Beijing 03 June 1989. On the night of 03 and 04 June 1989, Tiananmen Square sheltered the last pro-democracy supporters. Chinese troops forcibly marched on the square to end a weeks-long occupation by student protestors, using lethal force to remove opposition it encountered along the way. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed in the crackdown as tanks rolled into the environs of the square. (Photo credit should read CATHERINE HENRIETTE/AFP/Getty Images)
A rickshaw driver fiecely peddles the wounded people, with the help of bystanders, to a nearby hospital Sunday, June 4, 1989. PLA soldiers again fired hundreds of rounds towards angry crowds gathered outside Tiananmen Square at noon. (AP Photo/Liu Heung Shing)
BEIJING, CHINA: An armoured personnel carrier is in flames as students put in on fire 04 June 1998 near Tiananmen Square in Beijing. On the night of 03 and 04 June 1989, Tiananmen Square sheltered the last pro-democracy supporters. Chinese troops forcibly marched on the square to end a weeks-long occupation by student protestors, using lethal force to remove opposition it encountered along the way. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed in the crackdown as tanks rolled into the environs of the square. (Photo credit should read THOMAS CHENG/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA: Beijing residents inspect the interior of some of over 20 armoured personnel carrier burnt by demonstrators to prevent the troops from moving into Tiananmen Square 04 June 1989. On the night of 03 and 04 June 1989, Tiananmen Square sheltered the last pro-democracy supporters. Chinese troops forcibly marched on the square to end a weeks-long occupation by student protestors, using lethal force to remove opposition it encountered along the way. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed in the crackdown as tanks rolled into the environs of the square. (Photo credit should read MANUEL CENETA/AFP/Getty Images)
A truck drives Chinese soldiers down Chang'an Boulevard in Beijing, June 5, 1989, one day after violence between government troops and pro-democracy protesters left hundreds dead. (AP Photo/Jeff Widener)
A Chinese couple on a bicycle take cover at an underpass as tanks deploy overhead in eastern Beijing, China, June 5, 1989. Chinese troops crushed a pro-democracy demonstration held by students and other demanding democratic reform in Tiananmen Square on June 4. (AP Photo/Liu Heung Shing)
A woman soldier sings among pro-democracy protesters occupying Beijing's Tiananmen Square, about June 2, 1989. Police and military would occasionally mix with protesters in an attempt to keep the demonstration peaceful. In the early morning hours of June 4, 1989, soldiers overran the square, leaving hundreds dead overnight. (AP Photo/Jeff Widener)
BEIJING, CHINA - MAY 13: A 18 May 1989 file photo shows students from Beijing University during a huge demonstration at Tiananmen Square as they start an unlimited hunger strike as the part of mass pro-democracy protest against the Chinese government. The 'Beijing Spring' pro-democracy movement culiminated in the massacre of demonsrators by Chinese troops on the night of 03-04 June 1989 when army tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read CATHERINE HENRIETTE/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - MAY 25: Beijing workers sitting in a bulldozer shovel shout slogans as they drive their engine in front of the Forbidden City in Tiananmen Square 25 May 1989 during a rally to support the student pro-democracy protest against the Chinese government. The April-June 1989 movement was crushed by Chinese troops in June when army tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square 04 June. (Photo credit should read CATHERINE HENRIETTE/AFP/Getty Images)
Students decorate the new tents in a Tiananmen Square camp with a banner and Mao portrait, Monday, May 29, 1989, Beijing, China. The tents were donated by a Hong Kong university. (AP Photo/Jeff Widener)
Street workers work to keep pace with the piles of debris in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, May 28, 1989, where thousands of university students are on strike for government reforms. (AP Photo/Jeff Widener)
FILE - In this May 16, 1989 file photo, medics rush a Beijing university student from Tiananmen Square after he collapsed on the third day of a hunger strike in Beijing. A quarter century after the Communist Party’s attack on demonstrations centered on Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, the ruling party prohibits public discussion and 1989 is banned from textbooks and Chinese websites. (AP Photo/Sadayuki Mikami, File)
Chinese residents check a burning armoured personnel carrier which was put in on fire by rioters fighting back when the army opened fire on the civilians on June 4, 1989 near Tiananmen Square in Beijing. On the night of 03 and 04 June 1989, Tiananmen Square sheltered the last pro-democracy supporters. A series of pro-democracy protests was sparked by the April 15 death of former communist party leader Hu Yaobang. In a show of force, China leaders vented their fury and frustration on student dissidents and their pro-democracy supporters. Several hundred people have been killed and thousands wounded when soldiers moved on Tiananmen Square during a violent military crackdown ending six weeks of student demonstrations, known as the Beijing Spring movement. According to Amnesty International, five years after the crushing of the Chinese pro-democracy movement, 'thousands' of prisoners remained in jail. AFP PHOTO TOMMY CHENG (Photo credit should read TOMMY CHENG/AFP/Getty Images)
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A statue of a goddess of democracy, which featured in the Tiananmen protests in 1989, stood in the midst of Victoria Park.

The figure was plastered with stickers of umbrellas - the symbol of defiance from the Hong Kong protests, when activists used umbrellas to shield themselves from police pepper spray and tear gas.

"The umbrella movement and June 4 commemoration share the same roots. Both Chinaand Hong Kong need elections and democracy," said a protester, who only gave his name as Wong.

But unlike the 1989 crackdown, police disbanded the Hong Kong Occupy Central protest after 79 days without serious violence.

The Tiananmen protests have been marked each year in Hong Kong, a former British colony which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, and organizers said the vigil drew 135,000 people, less than last year's 25th anniversary that drew 180,000 people.

China has declined to make concessions on its blueprint for Hong Kong's leadership election, under which a 1,200-member committee, packed with Beijing loyalists, will vet two or three candidates who will compete for votes to become the city leader.

The electoral blueprint requires a two-thirds majority in the 70-seat legislature to pass, but the city's 27 pro-democracy lawmakers have vowed to block the package.

Speaking just before the vigil, 18-year-old student leader Joshua Wong called for a fresh wave of protests on the day lawmakers vote for the electoral package.

"The best way to inherit the June 4 spirit is to fight locally. Let's surround the legislature on June 17," Wong said.

(Additional reporting by Hong Kong newsroom, and Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing byRobert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

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