Hong Kong: Tens of thousands gather for Tiananmen Square vigil
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Hong Kong: Tens of thousands gather for Tiananmen Square vigil

UP TO 110,000 people gathered in Hong Kong on Sunday for a candlelight vigil to mark the 28th anniversary of the 1989 protest in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square that left several hundred pro-democracy protesters dead.

The gathering is held annually in the only place on Chinese soil where the Tiananmen Square Massacre can be commemorated, and this year’s vigil came a month ahead of President Xi Jinping’s anticipated visit to mark 20 years since Hong Kong was transferred to China from the British Empire.

Organisers claimed 110,000 people turned out to the city’s Victoria Park for the vigil – enough to fill six football grounds – while police put the figure at 18,000.

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Human rights activists estimate the death toll in 1989 was hundreds or thousands of civilians in what is known locally as the “June Fourth Incident,” when China’s communist regime declared martial law and mobilised around 300,000 troops in the capital.

Commemoration of the event publicly or online in China is banned and tightly controlled by the government. It bans hundreds of search terms relating to June 4, 1989, and even completely shut down Google services on the event’s 25th anniversary.

“When Xi Jinping comes, he’ll know the people of Hong Kong have not forgotten,” said one of the event’s organisers Lee Cheuk-yan.

Bloomberg reports even the 110,000 figure would make it the smallest gathering since 2008, due to this year’s vigil being shunned by local student leaders.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released a statement on Sunday which called upon China to account for those killed, detained or missing on June 4, 1989 and “cease harassment of family members seeking redress and to release from prison those who have been jailed for striving to keep the memory of Tiananmen Square alive.”

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“The United States views the protection of human rights as a fundamental duty of all countries, and we urge the Chinese government to respect the universal rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens,” it said.

Posting on her Facebook page, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said, “For democracy: some are early, others are late, but we all get there in the end. Borrowing on Taiwan’s experience, I believe China can shorten the pain of democratic reform.”

She said the student protesters from Tiananmen Square had “inspired a generation.”

The German Embassy in Hong Kong’s “word of the week” was vergessen, meaning “forget.” A Twitter post stated “history should not be forgotten.”

“The students who died (in 1989) still haven’t got what they deserve,” one 17-year-old student told Reuters. “They fought for their future, in the same way we’re fighting for our future.”

Additional reporting by Reuters.