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TURMOIL IN CHINA: Crackdown on Dissent : Chinese Leadership Still Trying to Distance Itself From Killings

June 17, 1989|From Associated Press

BEIJING — China's leadership intensified efforts Friday to absolve itself in the deaths of pro-democracy protesters. A government spokesman also acknowledged that there was a split among Communist Party officials over how to deal with the popular uprising.

Nearly 100 more people were arrested nationwide Friday for taking part in the protests--including a fourth person named on a wanted list of 21 student leaders--and the government ordered two more Western reporters to leave the country.

An army spokesman, Gen. Li Zhiyun, acknowledged that soldiers fired into Tian An Men Square the night of June 3-4, but later contradicted himself.

"Some of the soldiers . . . directed their fire into the square," Li told selected Western reporters during a news conference at the Great Hall of the People.

At another point, however, Li said of the deaths: "It is not from any instances from the soldiers directing their guns at the people. This incident never happened within the area of Beijing."

Reporters who were not allowed to attend the news conference obtained the comments by watching a CBS News videotape. Li spoke through an official translator and did not clarify the remarks.

Before the news conference, the military took selected Western reporters on their first tour of the square since the fighting.

The government campaign appeared aimed at demonstrating that protesters were not shot while they were inside the 100-acre square, the symbolic center of power in China.

Although Tian An Men Square was the focus of the demonstrations, reporters on the scene said most of the shooting was on Changan Avenue, the main road to the square. But there were conflicting reports during the confused fighting in the darkness and some students reported shooting inside the square.

Other shooting incidents were reported from the edges of the square and at the bridge at Muxidi, the western gateway to the inner city. Reporters saw many wounded students treated at tents set up by protesters in Tian An Men Square.

The heaviest fighting occurred on the road to the square and the government has previously acknowledged that some soldiers shot civilians to death while pushing their way toward Tian An Men. But officials have insisted that no shots were fired when troops entered the square with tanks, and that no one died there.

The government says the fighting killed nearly 100 soldiers and police, and about 100 civilians. Chinese witnesses and Western intelligence estimate the death toll was at least several hundred and may have been as high as 3,000.

China's evening TV news showed crews disinfecting the square, repairing the pavement and replanting bushes. It did not say when it would be reopened.

Soldiers held solemn memorials for troops killed in the fighting. Shrines were set up on the streets where several soldiers died, and TV showed residents bowing in front of pictures of the dead.

Government spokesman Yuan Mu, asked in an interview with NBC News about the fate of Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, said: "It is true that certain individuals in the top Chinese leadership are guilty of supporting the counterrevolutionary--of supporting turmoil."

"But their questions will be dealt with soon and will be made public," he said. He did not mention Zhao by name.

The party chief has not been seen in public since May 19, when he visited student protesters occupying Tian An Men Square and tearfully appealed to them to go home.

Premier Li Peng declared martial law in Beijing the next day.

Sources later said senior leader Deng Xiaoping, joined by aging conservatives, stripped Zhao of his power, but that he had yet to be formally removed from office.

Yuan skirted a question on whether China might invade the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to arrest dissidents Fang Lizhi and his wife, Li Shuxian, who took refuge there after the army marched into Tian An Men.

"He must be brought to justice. We will deal with him according to legal procedures," Yuan said. The translator stumbled on the reply, saying Fang had been served "a death--an arrest warrant."

The official media continued its attacks on the protesters and on Fang, who is accused of plotting to overthrow the party; he did not participate in the demonstrations.

Hard-liners called on the nation to study the "penetrating analysis" of Deng on the true goals of the seven-week, student-led movement for a freer society.

An 'Ideological Pimple'

The party newspaper, the People's Daily, said: "This is the most powerful ideological weapon for lancing every kind of ideological pimple."

It described the students and their supporters as "a gang of political hoodlums, the evil remnants of the Gang of Four and other dregs of society." The Gang of Four were the radical leaders of the 1966-76 violent far-left Cultural Revolution.

The number of arrests reported since the crackdown began climbed past 1,185. Among arrests announced Friday was that of Ma Shaofeng, a 24-year-old student from the Beijing Film Academy who was a leader in the independent student union that organized the protests.

A radio report said Ma surrendered in southeastern China's Guangdong province.

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