June 5 (Bloomberg) -- As many as 150,000 people in Hong Kong took part in an annual candle-lit vigil to mark China’s crackdown 22 years ago on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, organizers said.
The crowd filled the Victoria Park rally site yesterday, said Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, one of the organizers. A spokesman for Hong Kong’s police said they estimated a turnout of 77,000 people. Since 1990, the park has hosted the only memorial held on Chinese soil to the June 4, 1989, crackdown.
“I feel very moved by the crowd today, especially young faces coming in, and mainland compatriots,” Lee, a legislator in the city of 7 million, told reporters. “We have already been successful in passing the torch to the younger generation.”
The vigil is taking place as inflation and surging home prices are stoking discontent in China and Hong Kong. The U.S. government in April said the “deterioration” of China’s human rights record in recent months is affecting relationships between the two countries.
China has arrested and detained dozens of people in recent months, and the U.S. has raised concerns about the detention of artist Ai Weiwei, Michael Posner, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said April 28.
Ai is being investigated for alleged “economic crimes,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said April 7.
In Beijing, authorities tightened security around Tiananmen Square. Just before 2 p.m. local time yesterday, more than 20 police vehicles were deployed on the eastern side of the city- centre square as Chinese and Western tourists strolled the expanse.
The U.S. marked the anniversary by calling on China to release people still serving sentences for taking part in peaceful protests.
“We ask the Chinese government to provide the fullest possible public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, and to cease the ongoing harassment of those who participated in the demonstrations” in Tiananmen Square, the State Department said in an e-mailed statement on June 3.
The U.S. should discard its “prejudice” on the political turbulence to avoid hurting relations between the two nations, Xinhua News Agency cited China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei as saying yesterday.
Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou, who has overseen closer ties with China, issued a statement calling on the Chinese government to release Ai and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, according to his office.
In the crackdown 22 years ago, Chinese troops fired on demonstrators who had been massing in the square in Beijing for weeks. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing estimated a death toll exceeding 1,000, and in Hong Kong, which was due to return to China in 1997, about one million people marched in protest.
“If the Chinese government refuses to acknowledge that the student demonstrators were doing the right thing, it’s hard for us to have any hope for political improvement in the future,” said Lee of the Hong Kong Alliance.
Attendants lit candles, sang patriotic songs and listened to activists who took the stage calling on China to atone for the crackdown.
“As a parent, when I see my beloved child misbehave I have to point out his mistake; the saddest thing in China now is that we can’t even point out her mistake,” said Hong Kong resident Daniel Chu, 38, who had taken his nine-month old son and four- year old daughter with him to the vigil. “As a patriot, I’m glad to see China has made huge progress in economic development, but I think we need to be brave to say this is not enough.”
The vigil was also shown a video tribute to Szeto Wah, a long-time campaigner for democracy in China and one of the vigil’s early organizers, who died aged 79 in January.
--With assistance by Michael Forsythe in Beijing. Editors: Mark McCord, Paul Tighe
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