HONG KONG -- Exercising freedoms denied to mainland Chinese, thousands of Hong Kong residents gathered Tuesday for a candlelight vigil to mark the 13th anniversary of the military crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square.
This year, World Cup soccer seemed to dominate the news, as fans abandoned offices, mahjong parlors, and theaters to see China lose to Costa Rica in a match that ended hours before the twilight ceremonies in leafy Victoria Park.
In Beijing, where the regime suppresses all efforts to mark the anniversary, security was tighter than normal around Tiananmen Square. But there were no reports of protests in China, where most attention appeared focused on the World Cup.
Local media reported that 10,000 Hong Kong residents showed up to mourn the army assault which killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unarmed demonstrators on June 4, 1989. Official attendance figures were not available. Last year, 40,000 participated.
"True patriotism is when you stand up for what you believe in, even if it costs you your life. I really respect the Tiananmen demonstrators and I come each year to bow to them," said Stephanie Cheung, holding a flickering candle.
Annual rally takes place
The annual rally began in 1989 when more than 1 million Hong Kong citizens gathered in protest. With the number dwindling to the thousands, lawmaker and rally organizer Szeto Wah urged those attending to educate the next generation to "take up the baton of democracy."
"No matter how difficult the road, we will achieve our goal of democracy for China," Szeto said.
Amid extensive World Cup coverage in the Ming Pao newspaper was a half-page memorial ringed in black that read: "The memory of June 4 will remain forever." It was signed by dozens of churches, activist groups and individuals.
The opposition Frontier Party issued a statement demanding that the central government stop suppressing dissidents in the mainland, who face harassment, jail or exile for defying a ban on public dissent.
The statement also urged Beijing to "reverse its verdict" on the June 4 protests, which Communist Party leaders branded an attempt to overthrow the government. The government contends troops had to restore stability by violently ending weeks of massive demonstrations demanding more political openness in China.
Chinese authorities have detained 23 people in a search for the source of secret documents said to have been used in "The Tiananmen Papers" -- a book published last year about the 1989 crackdown -- according to the Chinese civil servant said to have written the book, who uses the pen name Zhang Liang.
Writing in Tuesday's edition of the independent newspaper Hong Kong Economic Journal, Zhang said security agents had been assigned to hunt for the source both inside and outside China. Police in seven provinces named by Zhang declined comment, though one official confirmed that several people had been arrested in southwestern China's Sichuan province for having copies of the book.
While Chinese in the mainland must mark the anniversary in private, Hong Kong residents enjoy Western-style civil liberties, such as freedom of speech and assembly, under an autonomy arrangement set up when Britain handed this colony back to China on July 1, 1997.
Nearly five years later, many here prefer not to mention June 4, said the Hong Kong Economic Journal, which often carries commentaries by dissident writers, in a front-page editorial.
"This was an unprecedentedly shameful chapter in Chinese history," it said. "June 4 caused harm, excessive harm, to the people. The people cannot forget, the world cannot forget, history cannot forget."