The protests come at a sensitive time for Hong Kong's leadership. PIX: via BBC Tiananmen Square massacre vigil
The protests come at a sensitive time for Hong Kong's leadership. PIX: via BBC

HONG KONG – Tens of thousands of people have gathered in Hong Kong to mark the 30th anniversary of the crackdown on protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Hong Kong and Macau are the only places in China where people can commemorate the activists killed in 1989.

China has never given an official figure for how many people died, but estimates begin in the hundreds.

Organisers say 180,000 people took part in a vigil, centred in the city’s Victoria Park.

But police put the number of attendees at less than 40,000.

Elsewhere in China, the authorities have banned even oblique references to the crackdown, which took place after weeks of mass protests that were tolerated by the government. The numbers gathered in and around the square are estimated to have reached a peak of one million people.

Hundreds of security personnel and police were monitoring the square in Beijing on Tuesday.

The protests in Hong Kong come at a sensitive time for Hong Kong’s leadership, with public backlash over a proposed bill that would allow fugitives captured in the city to be extradited to mainland China.

Smaller vigils are also expected 64km (40 miles) away in Macau’s city centre, and on the self-governing island of Taiwan.

The Tiananmen anniversary earlier prompted a war of words between Washington and Beijing. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticised China’s human rights record and called on it to finally reveal how many people died in the crackdown.

In response, a Chinese embassy spokesman in Washington DC said his comments were “an affront to the Chinese people”.

On Tuesday, China issued separate travel warnings to its citizens travelling to the US, citing police harassment and crime.

Its foreign ministry accused American law enforcement agencies of “harassing” Chinese citizens in the US through immigration checks and other methods.

What happened in 1989?

Pro-democracy protesters occupied Tiananmen Square in April 1989 and began the largest political demonstrations in communist China’s history. It lasted six weeks.

On the night of 3 June tanks moved in and troops opened fire, killing and injuring many unarmed people in and around Tiananmen Square.

Afterwards the authorities claimed no-one had been shot dead in the square itself. Estimates of those killed in the crackdown range from a few hundred to several thousand.

At the weekend, Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe made a rare mention of the protests during a regional forum in Singapore.

“That incident was a political turbulence and the central government took measures to stop the turbulence, which is a correct policy,” he said in response to a question.

He added that because of the action that the government took, “China has enjoyed stability and development”. -BBC

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