HONG KONG: Thousands of Hong Kong protesters lit candles and chanted democracy slogans as they defied a ban on Thursday (Jun 4) against gathering to commemorate China's Tiananmen incident, with tensions seething in the financial hub over a planned security law.
Crowds streamed into Victoria Park, which has hosted huge Tiananmen anniversary vigils for the past three decades, chanting slogans such as "End one party rule" and "Democracy for China now".
"We are just remembering those who died on Jun 4, the students who were killed. What have we done wrong? For 30 years we have come here peacefully and reasonably, once it's over it's 'sayonara' (goodbye)," said Kitty, a 70-year-old housewife.
Smaller rallies took place across Hong Kong.
Police made arrests in Mong Kok as they sought to disperse protesters.
"Some black-clad protestors are blocking roads in Mongkok, Hong Kong. Police officers are now making arrests," police said on Twitter.
Reuters reported that pepper spray was fired in Mong Kok.
The Jun 4 anniversary has struck an especially sensitive nerve in the former British-ruled city this year after China's move last month to impose national security legislation and the passage of a bill outlawing disrespect of China's national anthem.
The Tiananmen incident is not officially commemorated in China, where the topic is taboo and discussion censored.
In Beijing, security around Tiananmen Square, a popular tourist attraction in the heart of the city, appeared to be tightened, with more police visible than on ordinary days.
In Hong Kong, this year's vigil was banned, with authorities citing coronavirus restrictions on group gatherings.
However thousands of people, including prominent democracy leaders, poured into Victoria Park on Thursday evening and lit candles as an act of remembrance and resistance.
Other vigils were held in local neighbourhoods, shopping districts and churches across Hong Kong,
"We are afraid this will be the last time we can have a ceremony but Hong Kongers will always remember what happened on June 4," said Brenda Hui, 24, in Mong Kok, where she and a friend stood with a white battery-illuminated umbrella that read "Never Forget June 4."
READ: Protests disrupt debate as Hong Kong legislature starts voting on controversial China national anthem Bill
People were also encouraged to mark the day on social media with the hashtag #6431truth, referencing the 31st anniversary along with the date.
The European Union urged China to let people in both Hong Kong and Macau mark the Jun 4 anniversary as a sign of guaranteeing freedoms.
The US State Department said it mourned the Tiananmen victims and stood with freedom-loving Chinese.
Taiwan asked China to apologise, which China called "nonsense."
"In China, every year has only 364 days; one day is forgotten," Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen wrote on her Facebook page. "I hope that in every corner of the earth there won't be any days that are disappeared again. And I wish Hong Kong well."
China has never provided a full account of the 1989 violence. The death toll given by officials days later was about 300, most of them soldiers, but rights groups and witnesses say thousands of people may have perished.
There was no mention of the anniversary in Chinese state media. But Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, tweeted a screenshot of the US statement with his own commentary.
"The Tiananmen incident gave Chinese society a political vaccine shot, which has enabled us to be immune to any colour revolution. 31 years later, riots emerged and spread in the US They only think of exporting it, but forget to prepare vaccine for themselves."
Hu did not elaborate. The term colour revolution is often used to describe peaceful uprisings in former Soviet states but has also been used to describe other popular movements.
Earlier on Thursday, some students in Hong Kong followed the annual tradition of repainting a Tiananmen memorial message on a university campus bridge: "Souls of martyrs shall forever linger despite the brutal massacre. Spark of democracy shall forever glow for the demise of evil."
In the Hong Kong legislature, debate over the Bill that criminalises disrespect of China's national anthem was disrupted when two pro-democracy lawmakers splashed foul-smelling liquid around in protest against the Tiananmen crackdown.
The Bill was passed afterwards.
"A murderous state stinks forever. What we did today is to remind the world that we should never forgive the Chinese Communist Party for killing its own people 31 years ago," lawmaker Eddie Chu said before he was removed from the chamber.