HONG KONG – Ever since Beijing sent tanks and troops to crush the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement, Hong Kong residents have led a candlelight vigil on the anniversary.
In this evening’s vigil, on the 15th anniversary, an expected crowd of thousands will demand that China admit mistakes in its bloody crackdown on the nonviolent student protesters that killed hundreds if not thousands.
The latest commemoration is emotionally charged because Beijing recently ruled out full democracy in Hong Kong in the near term, stirring fears that the territory is losing the freedoms and great deal of autonomy that were promised when Britain handed it back to China in July 1997.
“This year it’s important for people to show they will not be silenced,” said Law Yuk-kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, a non-governmental organization.
The Tiananmen vigil has also been an opportunity for thousands to voice their unhappiness with unpopular Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, the former shipping tycoon backed by Beijing to lead Hong Kong after the handover.
Hong Kong people want full democracy, but Beijing stepped into the debate in April and ruled that they cannot directly elect Tung’s successor in 2007 or all lawmakers in 2008. Ordinary voters will pick just 30 of 60 lawmakers in September, with the rest chosen by special interest groups such as business leaders who tend to side with Beijing and Tung.
Tung was chosen by an 800-member committee loyal to Beijing.
Student protesters pushed their way past police on Thursday to stage a Tiananmen Square commemoration rally outside the Chinese government liaison office here. One activist, Kin Sin, said local demonstrations represent a “passing of the torch” that began with the students who gave their lives in Beijing.
“We are fighting for democracy in Hong Kong from the Chinese government,” agreed lawmaker and unionist Lee Cheuk-yan. “The struggle becomes the same struggle.”