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Tiananmen Mothers Call on China To Reassess 1989 Massacre

May 29, 2006

A man uses his mobile phone to film democracy activists marching in the streets of Hong Kong, 28 May 2006, in a demonstration ahead of the annual candle-light vigil to mark the 17th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 04. (Laurent Fievet/AFP/Getty Images)

BEIJING - Families of victims of the 1989 massacre of Tiananmen Square demonstrators have called on the government to reassess the incident and compensate victims, days ahead of the sensitive anniversary of the event.

In an open letter released on Monday by the watchdog group Human Rights in China, the "Tiananmen Mothers" also called for a process of truth and reconciliation over the events of June 3-4, 1989, when troops and tanks suppressed weeks of peaceful protests, killing hundreds, maybe thousands.

"We believe that only by going through a process of determined perseverance can we accumulate results bit by bit," said the letter from the group headed by Ding Zilin, a retired professor whose teenage son was killed in the crackdown.

"And only though the continuous accumulation of specific results can we achieve a just and proper resolution of the June 4 issue."

Although 17 years have passed since the student-led protest movement that was unprecedented in Communist China, the government still fears the date could spark a challenge to its grip on power and has refused calls to reassess the wave of activism it condemned as "counter-revolutionary".

In April, Chinese authorities made a payment to the mother of Zhou Guocong, one of those killed, the first time a victim's family has been compensated. At the time, though, Ding said she doubted it meant any softening of the official line on Tiananmen.

Dissidents and intellectuals are still routinely taken into custody or placed under house arrest each year in the days leading up to June 4. Others leave Beijing to wait out the period in the countryside.

AIDS activist Hu Jia travelled to the central province of Henan to avoid the house arrest and detention he has suffered in Beijing in previous years, but he said even there he remained under police surveillance.

"From the 26th until now every day there are at least two cars and a motorcycle, about 10 police. Wherever I go, they go with me," he told Reuters by telephone. "I'll come back to Beijing on June 5."

Among those taken in this year were Shanghai petitioner Mao Hengfeng, who spent more than a month in detention earlier this year after she went on hunger strike in support of an outspoken human rights lawyer.

Mao was detained again on May 23 by a district police station and later transferred and her whereabouts were unknown, Human Rights in China said.

In a second incident, the father of an imprisoned activist was summoned by police after he submitted an open letter to the U.N. Secretary-General last week, requesting intervention to release his son.

Xu Yongdao's son, Xu Zhengqing, is serving three years for commemorating last year's death of former party leader Zhao Ziyang - ousted for his support of the student demonstrators - the New York-based watchdog group said.