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HONG KONG (AP) — A Hong Kong museum commemorating China's deadly 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests closed Wednesday three days after opening as the ruling Communist Party tries to stamp out the last traces of public discussion of the event.
Hong Kong was the last place on Chinese soil where the party's attack on protests centered on Beijing's Tiananmen Square was commemorated with candlelight vigils and other events. But authorities have banned public ceremonies for the second year amid a campaign by Beijing to crush pro-democracy activism in the territory.
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Organizers of the June 4 Museum said it closed after authorities investigated whether it had licenses to conduct public exhibitions. The Hong Kong Alliance of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China said it wanted to protect staff and visitors while the group sought legal advice.
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"Instead of caring about Hong Kong's democracy and Hong Kong people's rights, what it is doing is to meddle in Hong Kong's politics and China's internal affairs," a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said.Blinken asked authorities in Hong Kong to drop charges filed against those for "merely for standing for election or for expressing dissenting views" as police crack down on dissent. Hundreds of thousands of protesters in the city participated in unauthorized pro-democracy rallies in 2019.
Public memorials have long been banned on the mainland. Relatives of people who were killed in the crackdown often are detained or harassed by authorities ahead of the anniversary.
The group, which has organized candlelight vigils in Hong Kong in past years that attracted thousands of people, said the museum received more than 550 visitors since it opened Sunday.
Beijing is tightening control over Hong Kong, prompting complaints it is eroding the autonomy promised when the former British colony returned to China in 1997 and hurting its status as a financial center. Pro-democracy activists have been sentenced to prison under a national security law imposed following anti-government protests that began in 2019.
In past years, thousands of people gathered in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to light candles and sing in memory of people killed when the military attacked protesters in and around Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds and possibly thousands of people.
Hong Kong authorities have banned the vigil for the second consecutive year, citing social distancing restrictions and public health risks from the coronavirus pandemic.
Critics say authorities use the pandemic as an excuse to silence pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong.
Last year, thousands gathered in Victoria Park despite the ban and police warnings. Weeks later, more than 20 activists who took part in the vigil were arrested. This year, organizers have urged residents to mark June 4 by lighting a candle wherever they are.
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Blinken also noted that police in Hong Kong banned a Tiananmen Square vigil to honor the victims. Authorities in China said that the gathering was against COVID-19 mitigation restrictions. "The Tiananmen demonstrations are echoed in the struggle for democracy and freedom in Hong Kong, where a planned vigil to commemorate the massacre in Tiananmen Square was banned by local authorities," Blinken said. While the Tiananmen Square vigil was banned by authorities, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said on Friday that they were planning to hold a "candlelight vigil at the U.S.