A Chinese dissident who helped inspire the Tiananmen Square protests has died aged 76. Fang Lizhi rose to prominence in the buildup to the demonstrations in which hundreds were killed by the military.
The death of Fang Lizhi - a key pro-democracy figure who helped inspire the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests - was announced by fellow dissidents on Saturday.
"I hope the Chinese people will never forget that there was once a thinker like Fang Lizhi. He inspired the '89 generation, and awoke in the people their yearning for human rights and democracy," fellow US-based dissident Wang Dan wrote on Facebook and Twitter. "One day, China will be proud to once have had Fang Lizhi."
"Fang is my spiritual teacher, his death is a major blow to me," continued Wang, who himself topped a list of 21 most-wanted student leaders at the time of the protests. "At this moment, my grief is beyond words."
Fang's death, in Tucson, Arizona, was attributed to natural causes by another fellow activist.
Scientist forced into exile
Fang was once China's leading astrophysicist and rose to political prominence during pro-democracy student demonstrations between 1986 and 1988, becoming a leading figure in the movement for democratic reform. "Marxism ... is like a worn dress that must be put aside," he once said.
Authorities alleged that Fang's speeches at the University of Science and Technology, where he was vice president, had incited unrest among students.
Fang was named in Chinese warrants that, upon conviction, could have carried the death sentence. He and his wife, Li Shuxian, hid in the US embassy for a year and were eventually allowed to leave the country for Fang to seek medical treatment, in what was regarded by many commentators as a concession by Beijing to Washington.
He later worked as a physics professor at the University of Arizona.
rc/tm (AFP, AP, Reuters)