Hong Kong 'Umbrella' protests add poignancy to Tiananmen vigil

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
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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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