China says U.S. calls for Tiananmen accounting are 'unprovoked accusations'

BEIJING (Reuters) - China criticized the United States on Friday for “unprovoked accusations” in calling on Beijing to account for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

China sent in tanks to break up the student-led protests in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. It has never released a death toll but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.

The United States “continues to call for an official accounting of the victims of these events, the release of those still serving Tiananmen-related sentences, and an end to the harassment and detention of those who wish to peacefully commemorate the anniversary”, the U.S. State Department spokesman, John Kirby, said in a statement on Wednesday.

In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that the remarks were “unprovoked accusations, which severely infringed upon China’s internal affairs”, Xinhua news agency said.

“The Chinese government has already had the final verdict on the political turbulence and relevant issues of the late 1980s,” Hong was quoted as saying.

“It is undeniable that China has achieved great economic and social development in the past more than 20 years.”

Hong called on the United States “to abandon political prejudice” to prevent obstructing and harming ties, Xinhua said.

The topic of Tiananmen remains taboo in China. Hong’s statement was not carried on the foreign ministry website and was only published in English on Xinhua.

On Saturday, the English edition of the Global Times, a popular tabloid published by the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, condemned as “addicts” people who commemorate June 4 in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the United States every year.

“Keeping quiet in public places about the 1989 turmoil has been accepted by the public as a political strategy to maintain social unity,” it wrote in an editorial, in rare comments by state media on the subject.

The United States and rights groups have consistently called on China to account for the Tiananmen crackdown but the leadership has rejected all calls to overturn its assessment of events.

After the crackdown, the government called the protests a “counter-revolutionary plot”, but has more recently referred to them as a political disturbance.

Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie & Kim Coghill