Flames of remembrance undimmed by the years
Tens of thousands of candle-bearers packed Victoria Park last night to mourn those who died in the crushing of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Police put the number of those taking part in the only mass commemoration on Chinese soil of the killings at 77,000. Organisers said the figure was more than 150,000 - the same number they cited last year.
The June 4 anniversary comes as Beijing tightens its grip on activists and dissidents in the face of international condemnation. The event had added poignancy, taking place with Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident Liu Xiaobo in jail and artist-activist Ai Weiwei in detention.
In Beijing, police tried to stop families of victims of the June 4 crackdown holding a collective commemoration, but at least four families held a memorial ceremony under intense police surveillance. Security was tight in and around Tiananmen Square.
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: 'We ask the Chinese government to provide the fullest possible public accounting of those killed, detained or missing and to cease the ongoing harassment of those who participated in the demonstrations and the families of the victims.'
In an unusually quick response, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Toner's remarks were groundless.
He added: 'We urge the US side to abandon its political bias and rectify the wrong practice to avoid disturbing the China-US relations.''
In his speech at the two-hour vigil in Victoria Park, Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, vice chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, described Beijing as 'a butcher fearful of disclosing the true figure [the death toll] who still wants to cover up the truth.'
Some expressed their feelings by writing and drawing with chalk on the ground in the park. One message said: 'Vindicate June 4.' Others drew pictures of artist Ai.
Alliance chairman and lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said more than 150,000 people took part and accused the police of trying to stop more people entering the park by closing some entrances.
At the start of the vigil, Lee led fellow pan-democrats including Albert Ho Chun-yan and Cheung Man-kwong as a wreath was carried to the stage to commemorate those who lost their lives in 1989.
For the first time, the event did not include veteran democracy campaigner Szeto Wah, who died of cancer in January. But a video of him speaking was shown.
In a pre-recorded audio, Ding Zilin, founder of the Tiananmen Mothers group, expressed her sorrow for the death of Szeto, who she described as an outstanding leader of the democratic movement.
This year's vigil came after the revelation that mainland authorities had for the first time discussed with relatives of June 4 victims possible financial compensation.
The Tiananmen Mothers support group has welcomed the move as a step by Beijing to break the taboo, but has rejected the idea of settling the issue with money.
A young man who attended the vigil in Victoria Park last night said: 'Money can't buy everything.'
Meanwhile William Leung, 56, said he saw some 'minor' steps by Beijing towards democracy.