Protesters march in Hong Kong ahead of Tiananmen 25th anniversary vigil

HONG KONG (AFP) - Pro-democracy protesters marched in Hong Kong on Sunday to call for greater political freedoms in China and an end to one-party rule, ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Organisers said 3,000 people took to the streets in sweltering heat for the annual protest, calling on Beijing to release imprisoned political dissidents and formally acknowledge the bloody crackdown of 1989.

The Hong Kong police put the number of protesters lower at 1,900.

It comes ahead of a mass candlelit vigil planned for Wednesday to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in which hundreds of people, by some estimates more than 1,000, died.

Marchers shouted slogans such as "Democracy Now", "End One-Party Rule" and "Release Gao Yu", referring to a Chinese journalist recently detained for allegedly leaking state secrets.

China still forbids public discussion of the events of June 3 to June 4 1989, when the military brutally suppressed pro-democracy protesters, mainly students, in central Beijing.

Hong Kong is the only city in China to mark the anniversary openly.

"As for many years, it is a continuous struggle hoping to find justice and have a democratic China. This is the case even after 25 years," Mr Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, a protest organiser, told AFP.

"It is the responsibility of Hong Kong people to show support because we still have protection for our human rights," Mr Tsoi, the vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance In Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, said.

Including Mr Gao, the police have criminally detained some 20 prominent liberal academics, lawyers and activists in recent weeks, according to the US-based group Human Rights in China.

They include Mr Pu Zhiqiang, one of China's most celebrated human rights lawyers.

Amnesty International last week criticised Chinese President Xi Jinping for choosing "repression over reform", as clampdowns precede the Tiananmen anniversary.

Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 as a semi-autonomous territory with its own constitution that guarantees basic rights and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including freedom of speech and assembly.

A bid by the government to introduce patriotic lessons in schools sparked massive protests in 2012, forcing the authorities to backtrack.

Pro-democracy advocates in the city have constantly sought ways to remind locals and mainland Chinese visitors of what happened.

Mr Lee Cheuk-yan, a lawmaker who is the chairman of the Alliance, told protesters before the march: "We are protesting because suppression continues today and is getting more severe.

"Led by the Xi Jinping administration, freedom and human rights in China today is the worst for the past 25 years," he said.

In April, the world's first museum dedicated to the Tiananmen crackdown opened in Hong Kong.

Beijing has never provided an official final death toll for the military crackdown, but some independent observers put the figure at more than 1,000.

An official Chinese Communist Party assessment after the Tiananmen protests branded the movement a "counter-revolutionary rebellion".

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