June 4, 2008 / 1:27 AM / in 11 years

China urged to carry over quake openness to Tiananmen

By Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING, June 4 (Reuters) - The most senior Chinese official jailed for sympathising with the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests has urged the leadership to make public the events that led to the government’s decision to crush the pro-democracy movement.

The demonstrations, which lured 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, the massacre is still taboo in the Chinese media.

Bao Tong, once the top aide to purged 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.

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.

At least two other leaders, Deng’s rival Chen Yun, and then president Yang Shangkun, also opposed Deng’s decision, Bao said.

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.

Other key Tiananmen figures have either been forgotten or intimidated into silence. Those in exile are divided and bickering or scraping a living.

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.

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

Asked whether it would be unwise for the leadership to reassess the Tiananmen verdict if it was not politically strong enough, Bao said the leadership should "ask the people for help instead of covering it up — the worst choice".

The government has rejected calls to overturn the verdict that the protests were subversive.

"The 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 is now an outspoken critic of the government.

"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. (Editing by Nick Macfie and David Fox)

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