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Mourning, tight security on Tiananmen anniversary

Thursday - 6/5/2014, 3:32am  ET

In this photo taken on Wednesday, June 4, 2014 and released by Zhang Xianling, relatives of people who were killed in the 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy protests on Beijing's Tiananmen Square commemorate in front of the tomb of Yuan Li, one of those killed, at the Wan An public cemetery in Beijing, China. They are from right to left, in the front row: Zhang Xianling, You Weijie, reading a text, widow of Yang Minghu who was killed, Wang Fandi, husband of Zhang and father of Wang Nan who was killed, Zhou Shuzhuang, mother of Duan Changlong who was killed and Li Xuewen, mother of Yuan Li. (AP Photo/Zhang Xianling)

GILLIAN WONG
Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) -- Yin Min held the ashes of her son and wept, she said, as she marked 25 years since he was killed in the crackdown by Chinese tanks and troops on protests at Tiananmen Square. Outside, guards kept a close eye on her home while police blanketed central Beijing to block any public commemoration of one of the darkest chapters in recent Chinese history.

"How has the world become like this? I don't even have one bit of power. Why must we be controlled so strictly this year?" Yin said in a telephone interview. "I looked at his ashes, I looked at his old things, and I cried bitterly."

China allows no public discussion of the events of June 3-4, 1989, when soldiers backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers fought their way into the heart of Beijing, killing hundreds, possibly thousands, of unarmed protesters and onlookers.

On Wednesday, scores of police and paramilitary troops patrolled the vast plaza and surrounding streets in Beijing's heart, stopping vehicles and demanding identification from passers-by. Chinese censors scrubbed domestic blogs and social media websites of comments marking the crackdown.

The silence in the mainland about the anniversary of a pivotal event that shocked the world contrasted with boisterous commemorations in Hong Kong.

Large crowds gathered Wednesday night in the city's Victoria Park for an annual candlelight vigil to remember the Tiananmen victims, holding candles aloft that turned the vast area into a sea of flickering light.

Activists laid a wreath at a makeshift memorial as the names and biographical details of people killed in the crackdown were read out. Organizers said more than 180,000 people took part, with many overflowing into the streets around the park's main entrance.

Elsewhere, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged China to release those jailed in connection with the events. "For all people who seek freedom, Tiananmen Square still stirs our conscience," he said in a statement.

Some relatives of the crackdown's victims in Beijing were allowed to pay their respects at cemeteries -- but only with police escorts. Others did so at home under surveillance, expressing frustration at the restrictions placed on their remembrances.

"I told my son this morning, 'Your mother is powerless and helpless, after more than 20 years I don't even have the chance to appeal for support,'" said Yin, whose 19-year-old son, Ye Weihang, was killed in the crackdown. Police have kept a round-the-clock surveillance of her home since April, she said, and the relatives' hopes of gathering and holding a public commemoration were dashed.

"You're not only re-opening my scars, you're spreading salt and chili powder into them," Yin said she told her minders.

The Chinese government has largely ignored the relatives' demands for an admission of wrongdoing and for a complete, formal accounting of the crackdown and the number of casualties. Beijing's verdict is that the student-led protests aimed to topple the ruling Communist Party and plunge China into chaos. Protest leaders said they were seeking broader democracy and freedom, along with an end to corruption and favoritism within the party.

Near the square in Beijing, reporters were told to leave following the daily crack-of-dawn flag-raising ceremony and there were no signs of demonstrations or public commemorations. Dozens of dissidents and other critics have already been detained by police, held under house arrest or sent out of the city in what they say is a more restrictive clampdown than usual reflecting the increasingly conservative political atmosphere under President Xi Jinping.

On normal days, the vast plaza is closely watched by surveillance cameras and plainclothes police and officers riding Segways, but most people are allowed to enter without having their IDs checked. Wednesday's measures, including the deployment of hundreds of security and emergency services personnel, were a dramatic tightening.

Authorities allowed about a dozen relatives of four people killed in the crackdown to pay their respects at a cemetery in Beijing, but they were under police escort and were watched by several dozen plainclothes officers, according to Zhang Xianling, a member of a group that campaigns for the crackdown's victims.

The relatives laid flowers and bowed three times as is customary in Chinese mourning, Zhang said, and one of them read from a prepared text.

"A quarter of a century has passed since the June 4, 1989, massacre. In these endless 25 years, not a moment has gone by that we didn't miss you," said the text, provided by Zhang to the AP.

"Our tears have run dry, our voices are already hoarse," it said. "Our temples have grayed, our gaits are already faltering. With the passage of time, we will bury our sorrow deep in our hearts and strengthen our faith and determination to pursue justice."

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