People commemorate China's 1989 Tiananmen Square events during a candlelight
Hong Kong - AFP
Tens of thousands gathered in Hong Kong on Wednesday to remember the dead on the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the only major commemoration in China as authorities clamped tight security on Beijing.
The White House called for China's government to account for those killed, detained or missing after the June 1989 assault on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing, which remains taboo in the Communist nation.
"Vindicate 6/4!" the huge crowds shouted, turning Hong Kong's Victoria Park into a sea of twinkling lights as their candlelit vigil began.
Organisers said a record 180,000 attended the annual vigil while police put the estimate at 99,500 -- a significantly higher number than last year's police estimate of 54,000.
Lights were turned out as old and young alike raised their candles in the dark. The names of the Tiananmen dead were read out over loudspeakers.
People bowed to pay their respects as footage of the clampdown was shown on large screens.
"This event must be instilled in everyone's heart. We can't let time dilute this," said 19-year-old student Anna Lau.
"Let Xi Jinping see the lights of the candles," chief organiser Lee Cheuk-Yan told the crowd, referring to the Chinese president.
"In Hong Kong, we will keep fighting until the end."
Hundreds of unarmed civilians -- by some estimates, more than 1,000 -- were killed in Beijing on June 3-4, 1989, when soldiers on foot and in tanks crushed peaceful student-led protests demanding democratic reforms.
- 'Historical wound' -
In the Taiwanese capital Taipei, exiled Chinese dissidents and witnesses to the crackdown addressed a crowd of about 500.
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou released a statement describing the events of 25 years ago as an "enormous historical wound".
He called on Beijing to "speedily redress the wrongs to ensure that such a tragedy will never happen again".
Likewise, the United States said it will continue to "urge the Chinese government to guarantee the universal rights and fundamental freedoms that are the birthright of all Chinese citizens".
Beijing reacted angrily to the White House statement, accusing Washington of a "total disregard of fact".
"It blames the Chinese government for no reason, gravely interferes in China's internal affairs and violates the basic norms guiding international relations," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
In rare political comments, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, issued a statement urging Beijing to embrace democracy as he offered his prayers to the Tiananmen dead.
Thousands of police and other security forces, some armed with automatic rifles, have been deployed across Beijing this week. There were numerous police trucks on and around Tiananmen Square on Wednesday.
Tourists and vendors criss-crossed the vast public square in the heart of the city, but uniformed and plainclothes officers were stationed at every corner and checking ID cards.
An AFP journalist was ordered to delete photos of scuffles between police and frustrated pedestrians waiting to enter the main part of the square Wednesday morning.
- 'Serious consequences' -
In 1989 the demonstrations and subsequent crackdown played out on television screens across the world, and Beijing briefly became a pariah in the West.
But 25 years later, the Communist Party's authority is intact and its global clout continues to rise in line with its rapid growth to become the world's second biggest economy.
Among the crowds in Hong Kong there were many from the Chinese mainland.
"I came here to take part in this vigil because in China we don't have any rights or freedoms," 35-year-old Huang Waicheng, an engineer from the neighbouring city of Shenzhen, told AFP.
"To express my views I have to come to Hong Kong. In China, there are too few people that know about (the crackdown)."
Under the agreement governing Hong Kong's handover to China in 1997, the semi-autonomous city has far greater civil liberties than the mainland.
On Hong Kong's harbour front, a handful of pro-Beijing supporters were involved in angry confrontations Wednesday evening with a much larger crowd of those mourning the Tiananmen victims.
- Social networks scrubbed -
China has worked hard to erase public memories of the bloodshed, censoring any mention from social networks and detaining scores of activists, lawyers, artists and victims' relatives in recent weeks.
Among them is prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who along with four others was taken away last month after attending a private seminar discussing the crackdown.
Around 80 academics from 12 countries penned an open letter to Xi on Wednesday pressing for the release of the five.
Many foreign news outlets have received warnings from police and the foreign ministry against newsgathering related to the anniversary -- or risk "serious consequences" including possible revocation of their visas.
Under pressure from authorities, Chinese online social networks quickly deleted any perceived references to the crackdown.
A handful of mentions slipped past the censors, including one posting that showed an image of a candle and the date June 4, 1989.
Asked about the anniversary, university students declined to be interviewed or suggested they did not know much about it.
"I know about it but I don't really understand what it is," said a student near Peking University. "At this time, we were not even born," she added.