Clampdown by Beijing ahead of anniversary

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 June, 2009, 12:00am

Tiananmen Square was sealed off last night as Beijing police sought to smother any commemorations of the 20th anniversary of the bloody June 4, 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

The atmosphere in the capital was in sharp contrast to that in Hong Kong, where preparations for the annual candle-light commemoration were in full swing, with activists hoping a record 100,000 will turn out in Victoria Park tonight.

In the days leading up to the sensitive anniversary, mainland police have been detaining prominent dissidents, tailing and intimidating less well-known ones and shutting down hundreds of weblogs and online chat groups. The security efforts reached their peak last night as the square was shut down along with three lanes of Changan Avenue, which runs past the square. There was a heavy police presence.

In the city's northwest, police stopped a well-known bookshop and cafe near Peking University - a popular meeting point for liberal intellectuals - remembering the anniversary with mourning flowers and candles lined up in the shape of the Roman numerals VI IV outside its main entrance. Owner Liu Suli, a former university lecturer jailed for his participation in the 1989 demonstrations, was forced to remove the candles.

There was also a heavy police presence in Muxidi after postings appeared online that there might be an attempt to hold a candle-light vigil there. Twenty years ago, troops broke through burning barricades at the Muxidi intersection on their approach to Tiananmen Square.

Beijing universities said they would ban students from dressing in white, after online postings appeared calling for people to don the colour as a silent act of commemoration.

A massive crackdown was launched on weblogs, websites and Fanfou, the Chinese generic version of the Twitter micro-blogging service. Authorities declared a 'national internet server maintenance day' covering most major online networking websites. The maintenance would take three days, they said.

Prominent dissidents including Ding Zilin and the mother of former student protest leader Wang Dan , Wang Lingyun, were confined to their homes and warned not to talk to the media, while Bao Tong , the secretary of late Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang , was spirited away from the capital. Dissidents Jiang Yanyong , a doctor who treated many injured after the crackdown, and Chen Ziming , who was jailed for 13 years after the crackdown were warned not to talk to the media.

Tang Jitian and Lan Zhixue, both lawyers, who signed Charter 08, a petition launched last year calling for political freedom, were taken away by police. Another lawyer who signed it, Jiang Tianyong, was told to report his movements to police. A Guangzhou-based journalist, Linghu Buchong, was also taken from his home.

In Hong Kong, Lee Cheuk-yan, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, said: 'People will never forget, not even after 20 years. The light of Tiananmen will continue to shine in Hong Kong.'

A former leader of the student protests, Xiang Xiaoji , who was denied entry to the city on Tuesday when he returned from exile in the United States, said Hong Kong's annual commemoration of the protesters made the city a beacon for democracy in China.