HONG KONG -- Thousands of protesters in Hong Kong raised candles in the air and sang solemn songs yesterday to mark the 16th anniversary of China's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations on Tiananmen Square, while security was tightened in Beijing to block any memorials there.
China's Communist Party has eased many of the social controls that spurred the 1989 student-led protests, which ended when soldiers and tanks attacked, killing hundreds of people. But Chinese leaders still crush any activity that they fear might challenge the party's monopoly on power.
Tiananmen Square was open to the public, but extra carloads of police watched tourists on the vast plaza and there was no public mention of the anniversary or sign of attempts at commemorations.
In Hong Kong, people holding candles filled an area the size of five soccer fields at Victoria Park -- the only large-scale protest on Chinese soil. Police estimated that 22,000 people attended the annual vigil, but organizers said the crowd numbered 30,000 to 40,000.
Many residents of the former British colony remain emotional about the Tiananmen crackdown because it happened just a few years before the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
''My heart is heavy," said Shum Ming, 58, a construction worker. ''Hong Kong people will not forget this history when a government uses guns and tanks to crush students. It's very atrocious."
Protester Henry Ho, 19, a Hong Kong University student, said, ''If the Chinese government can say what happened that night and can say that they're sorry, it can show that they are not the same government from the past."
In Washington, the State Department issued a statement urging Beijing to fully account for ''the thousands killed, detained, or missing, and to release those unjustly imprisoned." The Chinese government should reexamine the Tiananmen crackdown and ''give its citizens the ability to flourish by allowing them to think, speak, assemble, and worship freely," spokesman Sean McCormack said in the statement.
Many feel a duty to speak out because they have freedoms of speech and assembly that do not exist on the mainland. Hong Kong is ruled under a ''one country, two systems" formula that allows the city a wide degree of autonomy.
Banners and signs said, ''Don't forget June 4" and ''Democracy fighters live forever."
Vigil organizer Lee Cheuk-yan said, ''Our slogan is 'Recognize history,' and we're asking Beijing to do just that."
But Donald Tsang, the front-runner campaigning to become Hong Kong's next leader, said China has made great strides in improving its economy and people's livelihood.
''I had shared Hong Kong people's passion and impetus when the June 4 incident happened. But after 16 years, I've seen our country's impressive economic and social development," Tsang said.
The booming private economy has freed millions of Chinese from the structure of state jobs that controlled where they lived and worked, even whom they could marry. In their rare public comments about 1989, Chinese leaders defend the crackdown by pointing to the nation's emergence as an economic powerhouse, saying this would have been impossible without the enforced stability of one-party rule.