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Vigils in Hong Kong held to mark anniversary of Tiananmen Square protests

The annual vigil to remember the official crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, has been held in Hong Kong. It carried special significance in light of new voting laws that are to give Beijing more power.

Thousands of people turned out in Hong Kong to mark the 26th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests. An annual vigil has been held each year since the protests. This year there were various themes in focus: from last autumn's 79-day Hong Kong Occupy Central pro-democracy protest to calls on the Chinese government to overturn its stance that the Tiananmen Square protests were a counterrevolutionary riot.

China had sent in tanks to break up the student-led pro-democracy protests in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. An official number of those who died has never been given by authorities, but different human rights groups and witnesses estimate several hundred to several thousand people were killed.

Organizers claimed that 135,000 people attended this year's Victoria Park Tiananmen vigil (pictured). There was a replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue that protesters erected in Beijing. Vigil leaders laid a wreath there as the names of those who died at the Tiananmen Square protests were read out. The crowd bowed three times before observing a minute's silence.

Three university student groups opted out of the vigil

after a disagreement over political strategy with the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China.

A coalition of the city's universities, the Hong Kong Federation of Students, which played a major role in the Occupy Central protests, also opted not to take part. There have been leadership disputes within the Federation and half of its eight university group members voted to leave.

Student groups gave speeches making the link between the Tiananmen Square protests and the movement for democracy in Hong Kong.

"June 4 and Occupy Central are very similar," said Otto Ng, a 19-year-old student. In both Tiananmen Square and the Occupy protests, "We are all students, and we are pushing for democracy and freedom," he added.

In Beijing itself, security was tight on Thursday at Tiananmen Square, with lines at bag checks for people wanting to enter the square. A Reuters reporter saw a middle-aged woman holding a plastic rose hauled away from a checkpoint by authorities.

Hong Kong is the only place on Chinese territory where commemorations of June 4 are tolerated.

Issues around democracy this year have been heightened as the Hong Kong assembly is to vote on June 17 on a Beijing-vetted electoral package. Under the plan, a 1,200-member committee will vet two or three candidates, who will then compete for votes to become the city leader.

The Chinese electoral blueprint requires a two-thirds majority in the 70-seat legislature to pass, but the city's 27 pro-democracy lawmakers have said they will block the package.

jm/kms (AP, Reuters)

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