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July 29, 2017

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HK rallies for Tiananmen, Beijing clamps down

HONG KONG -- Tens of thousands gathered in Hong Kong Wednesday to remember the dead on the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the only major commemoration in China, as authorities clamped tight security on Beijing.

The White House called for China's Communist authorities to account for those killed, detained or missing in connection with the June 1989 assault, still a taboo topic for a nation that refuses to allow political reform in line with its dramatic economic transformation.

"Vindicate 6/4!" crowds shouted, waving banners, as the somber candle-lit vigil began in a Hong Kong park.

Lights were turned out as elderly and young alike raised their candles in the dark. The names of those who died in Beijing on June 4, 1989 were read out over loudspeakers.

People bowed to pay their respects as film footage of the event was shown on large screens.

"This event must be instilled in everyone's heart, we can't let time dilute this event," said 19-year-old student Anna Lau.

The United States will continue to "urge the Chinese government to guarantee the universal rights and fundamental freedoms that are the birthright of all Chinese citizens," a White House statement said.

Hundreds of unarmed civilians — by some estimates, more than 1,000 — were killed during the June 3-4 crackdown of 1989, when soldiers on foot and in tanks crushed months of peaceful protests by students demanding political liberties to match China's nascent economic opening up.

Thousands of police and other security forces, some armed with automatic rifles, have been deployed across the Chinese capital this week. There were numerous police trucks on and around Tiananmen Square Wednesday, with fire engines and ambulances also visible.

Tourists and vendors criss-crossed the vast public square in the heart of the city, but uniformed and plainclothes officers were stationed at every corner and checking ID cards.

An AFP journalist was ordered to delete photos of scuffles between police and frustrated pedestrians waiting to enter the main part of the square Wednesday morning.

Among the crowds packing Hong Kong's Victoria Park, named for the former British colonial monarch, were many from the Chinese mainland.

"I came here to take part in this vigil, because in China we don't have any rights or freedoms ... so to express my views I have to come to Hong Kong," 35-year-old Huang Waicheng, an engineer from the neighboring city of Shenzhen, told AFP.

"In China, there are too few people that know about (the crackdown)."

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