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article imageMassive Tiananmen vigil expected in divided Hong Kong

By AFP     Jun 4, 2015 in World

Tens of thousands of people are to join a candlelit vigil in Hong Kong on Thursday to mark the 26th anniversary of China's Tiananmen Square crackdown, with the city deeply divided ahead of a vote on how to choose its next leader.

Hong Kong is the only location where a major commemoration happens on Chinese soil, with residents gathering in Victoria Park to mark the military's brutal crushing of pro-democracy protests in central Beijing in 1989.

Hundreds -- by some estimates more than a thousand -- died after the Communist Party sent tanks to crush demonstrations in the square at the heart of Beijing, where student-led protesters had staged a peaceful seven-week sit-in to demand democratic reforms.

"This is an ongoing struggle for justice," said Richard Tsoi of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which organises the vigil.

"It's important that Hong Kong people do not forget," he added, predicting 150,000 would come.

Last year's 25th anniversary saw a record 180,000 attend, according to organisers.

Tsoi said he expects the event to pass peacefully, although it comes as tensions are high just two weeks ahead of a vote on the government's controversial election roadmap.

The anniversary also comes after huge pro-democracy protests that paralysed parts of the city for months last year.

- 'Fake democracy' -

Graphic charting attendance at Hong Kong's annual 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown vigil
Graphic charting attendance at Hong Kong's annual 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown vigil
-, AFP Graphic

The proposal goes before the legislature on June 17 and lays out a plan for the first ever public vote for Hong Kong's chief executive.

It sticks to a stipulation from China that candidates must be screened, a ruling that triggered last year's street rallies.

Campaigners call the proposal "fake democracy", and opposition lawmakers have pledged to vote it down.

The split will be reflected Thursday, with pro-Beijing groups -- who support the Hong Kong government's election package -- planning their own gatherings.

But there is also division within the pro-democracy camp.

Hong Kong University's student union, which has taken part in all previous June 4 vigils and took a leading role in last year's demonstrations, said it wants to "provide an alternative" on its campus this year, with 1,000 expected.

Students sing to commemorate China's 1989 Tiananmen Square events ahead of a candlelight vigil ...
Students sing to commemorate China's 1989 Tiananmen Square events ahead of a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong, on June 4, 2014
Philippe Lopez, AFP/File

Organisers said they did not agree with the Alliance's premise that democratisation of China should be the prerequisite for democracy in Hong Kong.

"We would like to provide a different event so we can discuss Hong Kong's future as Hong Kong people," said union president Billy Fung.

The city is largely self-governed and has far greater civil liberties than on the mainland, where public discussion of Tiananmen is forbidden.

The Hong Kong Federation of Students also said it would not participate in the main event as an organisation because members could not reach a consensus on whether to attend.

"We respect that this year some people will have other activities," said Tsoi, "but we are confident that many people, including the new generation, will join our vigil."

Police will cordon off roads near the park and said there would be sufficient officers to handle "any unpredictable incident".

Local media reported that 7,000 officers would be on standby.

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