February 27, 2009 / 3:16 AM / 11 years ago

China "mothers" urge reckoning with 1989 bloodshed

BEIJING (Reuters) - A group representing families of demonstrators killed or maimed in the armed crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests 20 years ago has urged China to name the dead, denouncing official silence over the anniversary.

Policemen ride newly equipped Harley-Davidson motorcycles during their patrols on Tiananmen Square at a photo call in Beijing December 8, 2008. REUTERS/Paul Zhang

The call came from the “Tiananmen Mothers” in a petition issued on Friday that carried 127 names of people who claimed their children or family members were victims of the June 4 quelling of the pro-democracy protests that challenged Communist Party power in 1989.

The group urged the government to investigate the military crackdown, name all the dead, compensate their families and punish “those responsible for the killings.”

“It was nothing short of an unconscionable atrocity,” the group said in the petition issued through Human Rights in China, a New York-based advocacy group.

“China has become like an airtight iron chamber and all the demands of the people about June 4, all the anguish, lament and moaning of the victims’ relatives and the wounded have been sealed off,” stated the petition addressed to China’s national parliament, which opens its annual session next week.

The relatives’ campaign for an official reckoning with the killings has long been led by Ding Zilin, a retired Beijing professor whose 17-year-old son was killed as tanks and armed troops swept through Beijing’s streets.

She and other campaigners could not be contacted to comment on the petition or verify they signed it. But the group has made similar calls before.

The latest petition, however, comes during an especially sensitive year, when the Communist Party must navigate through potentially volatile anniversaries, including the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile from Tibet, while also coping with a slowed economy and rising joblessness.

After initial division and uncertainty over how to respond to the student-led demonstrations in the spring of 1989, the Communist Party sent troops to crush the protests, killing hundreds, some say thousands.

At the time, China denounced the protests as a “counter-revolutionary” plot. But these days they tend to call it a “political disturbance” and avoid extensive comment.

Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie

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