Violence Erupts at Rally Marking China Crackdown
Hundreds of students at Beijing University staged a bold anti-government protest early today, the anniversary of last year’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations.
Shortly after midnight, the crowd of students marched through the campus shouting anti-government slogans despite the pleas of a Communist Party official to return to their dormitories, witnesses said. About 200 of the students then gathered to listen to speeches calling for democratic reforms and better treatment of intellectuals.
Paramilitary police sealed entry into the suburban campus district shortly after the demonstrations began.
But some foreign journalists were already gathered on a public street running outside one edge of campus, where graduate students had thrown bottles and rocks from windows late Sunday evening. Some were thrown at police, who initially left the area.
By 1 a.m. today, only about eight foreigners remained at this spot, which by then was quiet. Then four or five paramilitary police vehicles arrived. Police jumped out and ordered those present to leave. As the foreigners moved quickly toward their cars, two were assaulted. Helmeted men carrying semiautomatic weapons and pistols beat this reporter’s wife, who is Japanese. She sustained a severe bruise topped by a four-inch-long red welt on her back. This reporter was also knocked to the ground but was not injured.
Earlier in the day, at the edge of Tian An Men Square, Richard Ellis, a photographer for the British news agency Reuters, was assaulted by plainclothes officers when he attempted to photograph police harassing a CBS cameraman.
Ellis was pushed to the ground and kicked in the head, suffering a bruise, and a man smashed his camera on the concrete, Reuters reported. The CBS cameraman, Bradley Simpson, was not beaten, Reuters reported.
The Beijing University protest came exactly one year after army troops shot their way into central Beijing to suppress pro-democracy demonstrations, killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people in crowds that sought to block their path.
Sunday night’s demonstration began about 10:30 p.m., when students in an undergraduate dormitory began setting off firecrackers and throwing beer bottles out of windows.
Breaking bottles in public is a brazen act of political protest in China, because the Chinese word for “small bottle"-- xiaoping-- sounds like the given name of senior leader Deng Xiaoping. During last year’s demonstrations, protesters sometimes broke bottles to show their dissatisfaction with Deng.
The bottle-throwing then was taken up by many people in the graduate student dormitories near the edge of campus. Some students also began singing “Internationale.” This socialist anthem, learned by all Chinese as schoolchildren, calls on slaves to rise up against their oppressors. Students last year, without changing any words, turned it against their rulers as an anthem of the protest movement.
Around midnight, Lin Yanzhi, head of the university’s Communist Party organization, was booed by students when he urged them to return to their rooms.
Hundreds of students then marched around campus, shouting slogans against the government, including calls for Premier Li Peng to step down. Li and Deng are the two leaders most widely blamed for ordering army troops to shoot their way into Beijing last year.
“Go ahead and shoot us,” some students shouted, according to a report by United Press International. “Rise up. Rise up. Beijing University, have no fear.”
About 200 students then gathered in an area where anti-government posters were put up during last year’s demonstrations, and where political rallies were sometimes held. One man gave a speech calling for direct election of members of China’s National People’s Congress, or Parliament, which is now selected through an indirect process tightly controlled by the Communist Party.
According to a witness, he also called for factories to be turned over to the control of workers, for peasants to have control of their land and for greater respect for intellectuals. Two men, apparently plainclothes police officers, attempted to grab the man but were initially blocked by students, the witness said. They soon made a second attempt and many students stood and crowded around, blocking the witness’s view. Later, word spread on campus that the man had been detained, but this could not be confirmed.
Security forces briefly detained about a dozen foreign correspondents as they left the campus area and forced them to line up against a wall, the Associated Press reported.
“Guns were in our faces,” said an American reporter, speaking with AP on condition of anonymity.
ABC News in New York sent a telegram to the Chinese ambassador to the United States protesting “the unprovoked physical attack” and detention of the network’s Beijing bureau chief and a camera operator by university guards.
A West German reporter in the campus area said police struck her with an electric truncheon, a device often called a cattle prod.
By 2 a.m., nearly all students had returned to their dormitory rooms and the campus was quiet.
Security was tight throughout the city Sunday, with scattered truckloads of paramilitary police cruising the streets during the day. By late evening, checkpoints were in place at major intersections.
The main part of Tian An Men Square, center of last year’s protests, was closed to the public, but pedestrians were allowed to walk along the perimeter of the square.
Here, there were several incidents of individual protest and arrests.
On Sunday morning, a middle-aged man who appeared to be a worker, approached a Canadian Broadcasting Co. television crew in front of the great gate of Tian An Men and tried to display a poster that declared: “To all the world’s journalists, we report that a new philosophy has been invented.”
Within seconds, he was grabbed by uniformed police officers.
One woman was dragged off after she approached a West German television crew at the square.
In the evening, as lightning bolts lit the Beijing sky, another man stood at the edge of the square for about 25 minutes, his hands folded in prayer. Finally, plainclothes police grabbed him, United Press International reported.
“What are you doing?” a paramilitary police officer yelled, while plainclothes officers held the man.
“I’m praying,” the man replied in a clear voice, UPI reported. “Can’t a man pray in peace?”
The man was questioned, his identity papers were checked, and then he was taken away.