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HONG KONG: Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents were set to hold a candlelight vigil Saturday to mark the 16th anniversary of China's bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations.
In Beijing, security was tight and there were no signs of public commemorations on the giant square, where 1989 student-led protests that ended when soldiers and tanks attacked, killing hundreds of people.
China's Communist Party has eased many of the social controls that spurred the student-led Tiananmen protests, but still crushes protests against the event -- or any activity that it worries might threaten its monopoly on power.
But in a handful of other cities, some tried to keep the memory of the brutal crackdown alive.
A senior Chinese diplomat who abandoned his post and is seeking political asylum in Australia came out of hiding on Saturday to speak at a Sydney rally to observe the anniversary.
Chen Yonglin, 37, the consul for political affairs at the Chinese consulate-general in Sydney, said he was defecting because of a lack of freedoms in China.
"In 16 years, the Chinese government has done nothing for political reform,'' he said. "People have no political freedom, no human rights.''
Chen claimed he still was being chased by Chinese security agents, and feared they might kidnap him.
"I feel very unsafe,'' he said.
"They have successfully been kidnapping people in Australia back to China. I want to ask if the Australian government is aware of such cases. If they are aware, so the government is cooperating with terrorists,'' Chen said.
Mick Spinx, a media spokesman for the Australian Federal Police, said federal police have not been asked by Australia's government, or any other party, to be involved in the case.
Neither Australia's foreign ministry nor the Chinese Embassy in Australia could immediately be reached for comment.
Chen has been in hiding with his wife and their 6-year-old daughter since he walked of the Chinese consulate in Sydney a week ago.
Chen said he hoped Australia's government would offer him protection "so I will not have to hide again from today.''
In Beijing on Saturday, the government tightened security _ as it usually does around June 4 -- at Tiananmen Square, where tourists were watched by extra carloads of police and paramilitary troops. There was no hint of public mention of the event.
The anniversary, always sensitive for communist leaders, is especially touchy this year because it is the first since the death in January of Zhao Ziyang, the former Communist Party boss who was purged in 1989 after sympathizing with the protesters.
In Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, many remain intensely emotional about the crackdown, when China's army advanced on the square -- ignoring the pleas of thousands of civilians -- and killed unarmed students and pro-democracy activists.
Every year, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers commemorate the event with a candlelight vigil in Victoria Park -- the only one held on Chinese soil. Many feel a duty to speak out because they have freedoms of speech and assembly that don't exist on the mainland.
But Donald Tsang, the front-runner campaigning to become Hong Kong's next leader, on Saturday urged the public to be rational about the event, saying China has made great strides in improving its economy and people's livelihood.
"I had shared Hong Kong people's passion and impetus when the June 4 incident happened. But after 16 years, I've seen our country's impressive economic and social development,'' Tsang said. "My feelings have become calmer.''
Tsang said developments in China have also benefited Hong Kong. He was speaking on a phone-in radio program about his campaign.
His comment on Tiananmen drew fire from at least one caller, who attacked Tsang for suggesting that "economic achievement can wash away crime.''
The Roman Catholic Church's leader in Hong Kong, Bishop Joseph Zen, also criticized Tsang's remark.
"Of course people's feelings change. But the truth remains the same. Our judgment then was not wrong, and we should not change it now,'' Zen told reporters.
Organizers of Saturday's vigil said this year's theme is to demand that China face up to its past and "learn from history.''
China's leaders accuse Japan of whitewashing its World War II crimes, "but are not willing to face their own bloodstained past,'' the organizers said in a statement.
A retired senior Chinese official, Li Pu, also called on Beijing to vindicate the 1989 pro-democracy movement, which was branded a "counterrevolutionary riot'' by the Communist leadership.
"The students made big mistakes, but the government's military crackdown was even worse. It was extremely wrong to send troops against ordinary people,'' Li, former vice president of China's official Xinhua News Agency and a friend of Zhao's, said in an interview with Hong Kong's government-owned radio RTHK.
"History will give Zhao Ziyang justice. Some years later, June 4 must be vindicated,'' he said in the radio program aired Friday. --AP
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