Peking descends into chaos

578 words
5 June 1989
Reuters News
(c) 1989 Reuters Limited

PEKING, June 5, Reuter – Peking descended into chaos with troops firing indisciminately at incensed crowds of unarmed residents, braving death to protest against what they described as their fascist leaders.

People in many areas burned military vehicles in retaliation. One foreign witness reported seeing a military officer who had apparently been burned alive hanging from a gutted bus in western Peking.

The government continued to insist Sunday’s dawn attack by troops on pro-democracy students encamped in Tiananmen Square had been to squash "counter-revolutionary riots".

Peking city radio’s evening broadcast said that not one person was killed in the square, directly contradicting reports by many witnesses of a bloodbath.

The government has officially admitted some civilians died during the push into central Peking and has said more than a thousand soldiers were killed or injured.

"This is more fascist than fascism," said one witness near the Peking Hotel as troops fired towards angry residents.

Estimates of the number of casualties in the military assault on orders from Communist Party hardliners led by Deng Xiaoping proliferated with no possibility of confirmation.

One Western diplomat said he believed more than 1,000 had been killed, and other estimates ranged up to 7,000. Peking television on Sunday night denied what it said was a rumour that 3,000 had died in the attack on the square.

Radio Peking announced that a total of 391 vehicles, including police and military vehicles, had been destroyed as of 2 a.m. on Monday.

Western diplomats said the government was apparently still paralysed by a power struggle, and many Chinese said they were hoping for intervention by military units opposed to the brutal crackdown.

Demonstrations mourning the dead and calling in some cases for the deaths of senior leaders responsible for the bloodshed took place in many cities across China, and protesters for a while cut the main north-south railway from Peking to Canton.

"If Deng, (Premier) Li Peng and (President) Yang Shangkun aren’t thrown out, there will be more bloodshed and deaths," said a student at Peking’s Qinghua University standing in front of a makeshift altar to the dead.

"After this tragedy, people cannot restrain themselves any more," he added.

There were scenes of extraordinary courage in many parts of Peking as unarmed citizens confronted troops who had already proved themselves more than willing to shoot to kill.

In the northwest of the city, students on the campuses that were the birthplace of the student movement which sparked the current crisis, said they feared troops would soon move in to enforce martial law.

"If the tanks come, they (the students) will fight them to the death," said a teacher. Trucks and armoured vehciles moved up and down the eastern end of the Avenue of Eternal Peace carrying troops who fired towards groups of residents.

The official media kept up a barrage of warnings to residents to cooperate with the troops and accused the pro-democracy demonstrators of having foreign backing.

It said the assault on the square was just an "initial victory" and that there was a long difficult battle ahead against counter-revolutionaries and bourgeois liberalism.

A spokesman for the independent student union which led the original protests said: "We will continue our stuggle against the government. We believe that we have support from all over the world, that we will succeed and that democracy and liberty will survive forever in China."

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