Vigil banned, Hong Kong set to commemorate Tiananmen with 'candles everywhere'

HONG KONG (Reuters) – People in Hong Kong are set to commemorate the bloody 1989 crackdown by Chinese troops in and around Tiananmen Square by lighting candles across the city on Thursday, after police banned an annual vigil, citing the coronavirus.

The anniversary strikes an especially sensitive nerve in the semi-autonomous city this year after Beijing’s move last month to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong, which critics fear will crush freedoms in the financial hub.

It also comes as Chinese media and some Beijing officials have voiced support for protests against police brutality across the United States.

In past years, Hong Kong’s candlelight vigils have drawn tens of thousands of people to the city’s Victoria Park.

But police said this week a mass gathering would pose a threat to public health just as the city reported its first locally transmitted coronavirus cases in weeks.

Malissa Chan, a 26-year-old who works in the property sector, said she will go to the park anyway.

“When authorities want to suppress us, there are more reasons to speak up,” she said.

Lee Cheuk-yan, the head of the group that organises the annual vigil, told Reuters residents will light candles everywhere across the city instead.

Calls have come out online for people to light candles in specific places throughout the evening and then “where you are” at 8:00 pm local time (1200 GMT), followed by a minute of silence.

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With social distancing measures allowing for religious gatherings under certain conditions, some people plan to commemorate the crackdown in churches and temples. Residents are also expected to lay flowers along a waterfront promenade, while some artists plan to stage short street theatre plays.

Hong Kong has banned gatherings of more than eight people, a public health measure authorities have repeatedly said had no political motivation.

China has never provided a full accounting of the 1989 violence, but rights groups and witnesses say the death toll could have run into the thousands. The death toll given by officials days after the crackdown was about 300, most of them soldiers, with only 23 students confirmed killed.

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