China urged to carry over quake openness to Tiananmen

Wed Jun 4, 2008 2:11pm EDT

For related story see CHINA-QUAKE/GENERATION-YOUTH or click on nT260842 (Adds rally in Washington, DC, in paragraphs 12-13)

By Benjamin Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard

BEIJING, June 4 (Reuters) - The most senior Chinese official jailed for sympathizing with the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests has urged the leadership to come clean on why the pro-democracy movement was crushed.

The demonstrations that drew more than a million people on to Beijing's streets ended in a military crackdown on June 4 of that year. Now a fading memory -- or no memory at all for young people -- the massacre is still taboo in the Chinese media.

But Bao Tong, once the top aide to purged Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang, argued that China has been praised for its transparency in handling the devastating May 12 earthquake and should also reveal the rifts in the leadership that led to the massacre.

"Through this quake ... they have tasted the benefits of openness and should know that openness is better than being closed," Bao told Reuters in an interview at his Beijing home.

"June 4 of 19 years ago was a man-made disaster, but like natural disasters it should be made known to the people of the entire country and the whole world," said Bao, who was jailed for seven years and remains an outspoken critic of the government.

The square bustled with tourists and police, uniformed and plain-clothed, with no signs of protest on Wednesday.

"You think today is still a sensitive day?" one woman selling souvenirs on the square said. "That was a long time ago. It was a period of chaos that the government handled well."

But plainclothes and ordinary police manhandled veteran dissident Liu Xiaobo as he tried to leave his home to visit his father-in-law, Liu's wife Liu Xia told Reuters.

"They grabbed him by the neck and arm and dragged him away," she said by telephone, sobbing intermittently. Liu Xiaobo was later released.

CANDLELIGHT CEREMONY

In Hong Kong, thousands of people filled more than three soccer field in a public park to take part in a solemn annual candlelight ceremony for the Tiananmen victims on Wednesday night, braving light rain in the former British colony.

In addition to remembering those killed in 1989 and calling on the Communist Party to rethink its decision that the crackdown was justified, organizers offered condolences for the victims of the earthquake.

They called for investigations into all the schools that collapsed and punishment for corrupt officials.

In Washington, hundreds of Chinese pro-democracy activists gathered on a lawn near the U.S. Capitol Building for speeches by some 1989 activists and a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"We remember with sadness and outrage how the Chinese government unleashed an army on its own defenseless people," the California Democrat told the rally, whose organizers had erected a plastic replica of the Goddess of Democracy that the 1989 movement had built in Tiananman Square.

Zhao was ousted as Party chief in 1989 for opposing then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping's decision to send in the People's Liberation Army to crush the pro-democracy movement.

Zhao died in 2005 after more than 15 years under house arrest. He was replaced in 1989 by Jiang Zemin, who in turn retired in 2002 to make way for incumbent President Hu Jintao.

Plainclothes police turned back a Reuters reporter at Zhao's home, saying his widow was resting and daughter was out of town.

Despite efforts of dissidents and families of victims to keep memories of Tiananmen alive, the virtual silence on that period within China means few people know much about the movement.

Asked on Tuesday about the anniversary, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the government had given a verdict on 1989 long ago and the issue was an internal one.

But in Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack disagreed.

"The time for the Chinese government to provide the fullest possible public accounting of the thousands killed, detained or missing in the massacre that followed the protests is long overdue," McCormack said in statement released by his office.

Wang Dan, a student leader in 1989 now exiled in the United States, said the earthquake and the coming Olympic Games were the "most important events in modern China" since those protests.

In an opinion piece issued by Global Viewpoint, Wang wrote that Beijing could use this time to "let go of old wounds and offer an Olympic amnesty to all political prisoners."

Bao has remained outspoken about 1989 and he also urged the leadership under Hu to disavow Deng's "greatest mistake."

"In the end, debts will have to be repaid ... the earlier they are repaid, the more timely, the more thorough, the more it will be in command, the more dignity and the more face it'll have," said Bao, who is under round-the-clock police surveillance. (For a related video double click on: http:/www.reuters.com/resources/flash/includevideo.swf?edition= US&videoId=83951) (Additional reporting by Chris Buckley, John Ruwitch in Hong Kong, and Paul Eckert in Washington; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Cynthia Osterman)




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