Hong Kong park empty for first time in 32 years on Tiananmen anniversary

A Hong Kong park that traditionally hosts huge vigils on the anniversary of China’s deadly Tiananmen Square crackdown lay empty for the first time late Friday as police blocked access, but flashes of defiance still flickered across the city.

Huge crowds have gathered at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park in years past to mark the anniversary of Chinese troops crushing peaceful democracy protests in Beijing on June 4, 1989.

Hundreds were killed in the crackdown, by some estimates more than 1,000.

Public commemorations of the event are forbidden on the mainland and until recently semi-autonomous Hong Kong was the one place in China where large scale remembrance was still tolerated. 

But this year’s vigil was banned at a time when authorities are carrying out a sweeping clampdown on dissent following huge and often violent democracy protests two years ago.

Police threw cordons around Victoria Park, keeping crowds out and leaving the venue free of candle-carrying mourners for the first time in 32 years. 

Activists who approached the park were stopped and searched while officers used loud hailers and signs to call for people to disperse from nearby streets.

Unable to muster en masse, many Hong Kong residents still found ways to mourn the dead. 

Across the city at 8pm (1200 GMT) — the time when candles are traditionally lit — many residents shone mobile phone torches in the districts of Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, according to AFP reporters on scene. Others produced candles and lit them where they stood.

Some attended memorials at churches across the city that said they would open their doors to mourners. 

“I used to commemorate June 4 at Victoria Park but this year it is not safe to go there,” a 35-year-old office worker who gave her name as Beth, told AFP outside a Catholic church in Sai Wan Ho district. 

“I am not Catholic, I usually never attend mass or go to church. I just want to be part of this special occasion and commemorate because I think it is important,” she added.

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