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Thousands gather to mark anniversary of Tiananmen Square crackdown

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Protesters converge on Hong Kong's Victoria Park for a candlelight vigil
  • It is the 22nd anniversary of the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters
  • The vigil is held after recent efforts to quash anti-government demonstrations

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Thousands of people filled Hong Kong's Victoria Park on Saturday to mark the 22nd anniversary of the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square.

The candlelight vigil comes after recent efforts by the Chinese government to quash would-be demonstrators from holding anti-government protests. About 26 people were arrested between February and March, according to a Hong Kong-based human rights group, when an anonymous group began an internet campaign calling for anti-government protests in China similar to ones that have taken hold in the Middle East.

In response to the campaign, authorities deployed heavy security along major thoroughfares, especially in Wangfujing, a busy shopping street in downtown Beijing that had been designated by the online group for protests. The government also tightened rules on foreign reporters, explicitly warning them that they risk detention, suspension of press cards and expulsion if they show up at planned demonstrations.

20 years on: Tiananmen remembered

Saturday's protest is an annual event organized by the Hong Kong Alliance, a pro-democracy group. Hong Kong police called it a "peaceful gathering."

Remembering Tiananmen Square
  • China

Images of the demonstration showed a sea of flickering candles covering the length of the park.

A little more than 22 years ago, students gathered in Tiananmen Square to memorialize the recently deceased Hu Yaobang. He was fired as Communist Party chief in 1987 by Deng Xiaoping for pushing policies deemed too soft toward "bourgeois-liberal ideas" and tolerating student protests.

The April 15 memorial quickly turned into a pro-democracy movement, and students held talks with the government and later a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square to press their cause. On June 4, 1989, Chinese troops in armored personnel carriers and tanks rumbled toward Tiananmen Square. The soldiers, on strict orders to clear the square of demonstrators, had forced their way through the city's main thoroughfare.

Along the way, they met fierce resistance from students and city residents who barricaded the streets, so they fired at them.

When the firing stopped, hundreds if not thousands of people lay maimed or dead.

Relatives of victims renew their hopes every year that Beijing's leaders will reverse the verdict that the protests were a counter-revolutionary rebellion that had to be put down.

CNN's Aliza Kassim contributed to this report.