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article imageHong Kong remembers Tiananmen, fearful for its own future

By Elaine YU, Jerome TAYLOR (AFP)     Jun 4, 2019 in World

Huge crowds turned out for a mass candlelight vigil in Hong Kong on Tuesday evening marking 30 years since China's bloody Tiananmen crackdown, a gathering tinged with symbolism as the city struggles to preserve its own cherished freedoms.

The eye-catching spectacle -- in which tens of thousands of Hong Kongers clutched candles, sang defiant songs and listened to emotional speeches -- is the only place in China were such commemorations can be safely held.

The semi-autonomous financial hub has hosted an annual vigil every year since tanks and soldiers smashed into protesters near Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989 -- an illustration of the city's unusual freedoms and vibrant political scene.

Organised by a group of veteran democracy activists, the vigil demands justice for victims and for China to embrace democracy.

But in more recent years the mass gatherings have taken on an increasingly contemporary significance as angst builds over Hong Kong's future.

Organisers were hoping for a big turnout for Tuesday night's vigil, fuelled by both the milestone of the thirtieth anniversary itself and a renewed furore over defending the city from an increasingly assertive Beijing.

- 'Monster' -

This year's vigil comes at a time of huge controversy over plans by the city's pro-Beijing government to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland for the first time.

Organisers were hoping for a big turnout for the Hong Kong vigil  fuelled by both the milestone of t...
Organisers were hoping for a big turnout for the Hong Kong vigil, fuelled by both the milestone of the thirtieth anniversary itself and a renewed furore over defending the city from an increasingly assertive Beijing
ISAAC LAWRENCE, AFP

The proposed law has sparked a backlash from figures in the legal and business communities as well as the largest demonstrations Hong Kong has seen since 2014, a year when pro-democracy protesters took over key intersections of the city for more than two months.

Tuesday's vigil also comes just weeks after key leaders of those protests were jailed.

"We gather here to stop the monster that massacred people at Tiananmen 30 years ago," singer Anthony Wong told the crowds, which filled up all the football pitches in the city's Victoria Park before spilling out to the sides.

"We fear that this monster will run down to (Hong Kong), and we fear that this monster will... destroy our next generation," he added.

A woman holds an umbrella with a union jack flag in front of a banner printed with Tiananmen Square ...
A woman holds an umbrella with a union jack flag in front of a banner printed with Tiananmen Square before a vigil in Hong Kong
Philip FONG, AFP

Gary Chiu, 35, attended the vigil with his wife and their young daughter. He felt those pushing the extradition plans and what happened at Tiananmen were linked.

"Both are caused by the mainland China regime," he told AFP.

- 50-year deal -

Hong Kong enjoys freedom of speech and assembly rights unseen on the Chinese mainland under a 50-year handover agreement between former colonial power Britain and China.

But many fear those liberties are being eroded and have questioned Beijing's commitment to that deal.

Hong Kong's annual Tiananmen vigil
Hong Kong's annual Tiananmen vigil
Laurence CHU, AFP

In recent years protest leaders have been jailed and banned from politics while the disappearance into Chinese custody of a group of Beijing-critical booksellers rattled nerves.

Tiananmen survivors have previously appeared at past vigils but in recent years some have found themselves turned away by local authorities.

On Sunday, former protest leader Feng Congde was barred from entering the city on arrival at the airport and deported, organisers said.

This year's vigil comes at a time of huge controversy over plans by Hong Kong's pro-Beijin...
This year's vigil comes at a time of huge controversy over plans by Hong Kong's pro-Beijing government to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland for the first time
ISAAC LAWRENCE, AFP

Attendance at the vigil has remained above 100,000 for the last decade according to an organiser-run tally, but the numbers have slipped the last four years after the 2014 democracy protests failed to win any concessions from Beijing.

Many younger Hong Kongers have since embraced "localism", which focuses on preserving local Cantonese culture and freedoms and regards mainland China as a hostile entity subsuming their city.

The proportion of those attending the vigil aged under 30 dropped from 55 percent to 31 percent between 2010 and 2018 according to surveys while student unions have boycotted the vigil the last five years.

However organisers this year gave a turnout figure of 180,000, a joint record with 2014.

A child holds a candle as people arrive for a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong
A child holds a candle as people arrive for a candlelight vigil at Victoria Park in Hong Kong
Philip FONG, AFP

Police, who have historically given much lower figures, said 37,000 turned out at the peak.

Annual polling from the University of Hong Kong has shown consistent replies with a majority saying the Tiananmen students were right to protest and that China was wrong to suppress them.

One figure has changed markedly.

In the last five years the number of respondents saying China's human rights situation is now worse than 1989 has more than doubled from just 15 percent to 33 percent in the latest poll released Monday.

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