HONG KONG – Tens of thousands of demonstrators in Hong Kong have defied a ban to stage a mass vigil for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing.
Officers erected barricades around the city’s Victoria Park, but some pro-democracy protesters knocked them down and held candlelit gatherings.
Police banned the vigil this year, citing coronavirus measures.
Earlier, lawmakers approved a controversial bill making it a crime to insult China’s national anthem.
Ahead of the vote, two legislators were taken away by security guards after throwing a foul-smelling liquid on to the chamber floor.
They said they were protesting against China’s growing control over Hong Kong, and also marking the Tiananmen Square anniversary.
The latest events come as the Chinese government is drawing up a new security law for Hong Kong, a move that threatens to raise tensions even further.
Why was the Tiananmen vigil banned?
Hong Kong and Macau are the only parts of China that have been allowed to mark the killings.
An annual vigil has been held in Hong Kong since 1990. On the mainland, references to the crackdown are banned, and the government mentions it rarely – if at all.
On 4 June 1989, troops and tanks opened fire on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing – estimates of the dead vary from a few hundred to several thousand.
Tens of thousands of people normally mark the anniversary in Hong Kong, but police told local media that 3 000 riot officers would be deployed to stop smaller or impromptu commemorations.
At Victoria Park, demonstrators shouted pro-democracy slogans including “Stand with Hong Kong” and “End one-party rule”, referring to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power in China.
“I’ve come here for the vigil for 30 years in memory of the victims of the June 4 crackdown, but this year it is more significant to me,” one 74-year-old man told AFP news agency.
“Because Hong Kong is experiencing the same kind of repression from the same regime, just like what happened in Beijing.”
Candlelit vigils also took place in other parts of Hong Kong. Hundreds gathered in Mong Kok district, where there were brief scuffles between protesters who attempted to set up barricades and police who used pepper spray to disperse them, Reuters reported.
It was the first time there had been unrest at a Tiananmen vigil in Hong Kong, the news agency said. Police said they had made several arrests.
In Mong Kok, Brenda Hui held a white battery-illuminated umbrella that read “Never Forget June 4”.
“We are afraid this will be the last time we can have a ceremony but Hong Kongers will always remember what happened on June 4,” she said. (BBC)