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Mourners bid farewell to Zhao

Ching-Ching Ni Los Angeles Times

BEIJING – Hundreds of invited guests bade farewell this morning to purged Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang in a low-key ceremony at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery in the Chinese capital.

No official eulogy was given during the viewing of the body. But state media released a statement after the service characterizing the former premier as someone who had made contributions to China’s economic reforms but who also made “serious mistakes” in his handling of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

It was the first mention of the deposed leader since a terse dispatch about his death on Jan. 17, which didn’t even mention Zhao’s former ranks.

Senior leaders had not been expected to attend the memorial, but Jia Qinglin, a member of the party’s ruling nine-member standing committee, went “on behalf of the leaders of the central authorities … to bid farewell to the remains of Comrade Zhao” and express condolences to his family, the official New China News Agency said.

The former premier and party general secretary had been under house arrest for 15 years. He was accused of splitting the party by sympathizing with students during the Tiananmen crackdown in which hundreds, perhaps thousands, of protesters were killed.

The mourners had to pass checkpoints and show identification to be admitted to the main hall, where Zhao’s body lay draped in the red flag of the Communist Party, attendees said.

Funeral music was played as mourners, some sobbing, bowed three times to the body and then shook hands with Zhao’s relatives. All of his children and grandchildren apparently were present, but not his ailing widow.

No speeches were made and no cameras were allowed.

“It was quite a somber experience… . There was visible sadness in the hall,” said Jiang Wenran, a China scholar from the University of Alberta in Canada who was a guest.

There was heavy police presence in the Chinese capital and at the cemetery, even though the government maintained a virtual news blackout on Zhao’s death at age 85.

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