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China defies inquiry calls over 1989 crackdown

The Tiananmen Mothers on Wednesday drew links to last month's Sichuan earthquake as it appealed to China's ruling Communist Party to allow a public inquiry into the 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

The group drew parallels between the deaths of hundreds of young people in the square and the death of hundreds of students in shoddily built schools during the May 12 quake.

'In both cases, they died of manmade disasters,' said retired professor Ding Zilin, who leads the Tiananmen Mothers, an informal group of dozens of relatives and supporters of victims of the 1989 crackdown.

'Many abnormal deaths in China are because of the system and concepts,' Ding, whose 17-year-old son died in the crackdown, said in a statement.

The Tiananmen Mothers has campaigned since 1995 for an inquiry into the crackdown and for the government to offer an apology and compensation to the families of victims.

In 2006, the group said it had confirmed that at least 186 people died and more than 70 were injured in Beijing overnight on June 3-4, 1989, but it estimated that the number were only a 'small percentage' of the probable number of casualties.

Several rights groups joined the Tiananmen Mothers on Wednesday in pushing the Chinese government to account for its actions and release prisoners still held for taking part in the 1989 demonstrations.

'The Chinese government must stop whitewashing the history of what happened on June 4, 1989, and enforcing historical amnesia on society,' Sharon Hom, director of New York-based Human Rights in China, said in a statement.

'It continues to block the efforts of rights defence groups in China, like the Tiananmen Mothers, who seek to uncover the truth - most recently by blocking domestic access to their newly launched website,' Hom said.

'Reassessing June 4 is something China must do in order to truly join the international community and modernize,' she said.

London-based Amnesty International commended the government for its 'prompt and responsive reaction' to the May 12 Sichuan earthquake.

'On the anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy protestors 19 years ago, Amnesty International urges the Chinese authorities to respond with similar openness toward the families of those who were killed and those who were imprisoned or otherwise silenced for exercising their right to protest,' it said.

The US-based Dui Hua Foundation, which works for the release of political prisoners in China, estimated that 60 to 100 Tiananmen-linked prisoners remained in Chinese jails while the Chinese Human Rights Defenders group listed eight such prisoners in the Beijing area alone.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders also called for the release of four journalists and internet dissidents who were jailed for their comments on the crackdown.

'All the Chinese media are forbidden to refer openly to what was a major event in contemporary Chinese history,' the group said.

The US State Department also urged China to re-examine the crackdown, release all prisoners jailed on charges linked to the Tiananmen protests and stop harassment of the families of people who died in June 1989.

But China's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday repeated its position that it had 'already reached a conclusion' on the 'internal affair' that the Communist Party calls the 'political upheaval' of 1989.

One official party history said the crackdown was a response to a 'counter-revolutionary rebellion.'

It said demonstrators, instigated by leaders of 'illegal organizations,' set fire to People's Liberation Army vehicles and killed soldiers and Army officers.

'The troops met with fierce attacks from large gangs of marauders and had to adopt necessary armed action in self-defence,' it said.

In an official report a few months after the crackdown, the government admitted that a few protesters and a larger number of soldiers had died in Beijing but it focussed on the violence against troops.

The party seems to have followed a similar line in its limited accounts of the widespread protests and rioting in Tibetan areas of China in March and April this year.

It repeatedly showed images of Tibetan rioters in Lhasa, Tibet's capital, but said little about protests in dozens of other places.

The government said at least 18 innocent civilians and one police officer died at the hands of rioters in Lhasa, but it has not reported a single death of a protester in Lhasa or any other Tibetan area despite claims by Tibetan exile groups that they have identified at least 200 Tibetans who were shot dead by police and troops during the protests.

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