World

HK police ban Tiananmen vigil for the first time in 30 years

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police yesterday banned an upcoming vigil marking the Tiananmen crackdown anniversary citing the coronavirus pandemic, the first time the gathering has been halted in three decades.

The candlelight June 4 vigil usually attracts huge crowds and is the only place on Chinese soil where such a major commemoration of the anniversary is still allowed.

Last year's gathering was especially large and came just a week before seven months of pro-democracy protests and clashes exploded onto the city's streets, sparked initially by a plan to allow extraditions to China.

But police rejected permission for this year's rally saying it would "constitute a major threat to the life and health of the general public", according to a letter of objection to organisers.

Hong Kong has managed to keep the virus mostly in check, with just around 1,000 infections and four deaths. Bars, restaurants, gyms and cinemas have largely reopened in recent weeks.

Organisers have accused the police of using the virus as an excuse to ban the rally. "I don't see why the government finds political rallies unacceptable while it gave green lights to resumption of schools and other services ranging from karaoke to swimming pools," said Mr Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance which has organised every vigil since 1990.

The alliance called on residents to instead light a candle at 8pm on Thursday and observe one minute of silence wherever they can. "If we are not allowed to light a candle at a rally, we will let the candles be lit across the city," Mr Lee said.

He also vowed the alliance would continue to chant the slogan "end one-party rule" during the commemoration despite Beijing's recently announced plans to impose a law criminalising acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign interference.

The 1989 Tiananmen crackdown occurred when China's leaders sent tanks and troops to quell student protesters calling for democracy and an end to corruption.

Hundreds were killed, with some estimates suggesting that more than 1,000 perished. - AFP

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