BEIJING — Hundreds of Beijing residents streamed into Tian An Men Square on Thursday after martial law was lifted, but sporadic acts of defiance were quickly suppressed by police.
Many Chinese expressed relief at the withdrawal of the widely hated martial-law troops who shot their way into the capital last June and since had sealed off the vast square and mounted armed patrols throughout the city.
"At last, Tian An Men Square is back in the hands of the people," said one middle-aged worker on the 100-acre expanse of concrete that was occupied by protesting students from late April last year until the army moved in June 3-4.
Premier Li Peng on Wednesday announced the end of martial law, officially in force since May 20, 1989, and at the stroke of midnight troops and armed police marched off the square.
With the ending of martial law, authorities placed the People's Armed Police throughout Beijing on maximum alert, an officer in the force said. Security personnel mingled with swelling crowds in Tian An Men Square, poised to pounce at the first sign of trouble.
They quickly moved in on one old man who began screaming at uniformed police preventing people from getting near the Monument to the People's Heroes, a tall obelisk in the center of the square.
"The dead cannot be brought back to life and the living must not die," the man yelled, punching the air in a frenzy, apparently referring to those killed in the June army assault.
Two people, apparently friends or relatives, restrained him, and police ran over to lead him away.
One woman was detained by police after she gave an interview to a foreign television crew.
A Beijing student who arrived at the square intent on pasting up a wallposter said he was scared off by tight security.
Beijing residents were prohibited from laying wreaths at the monument, where deceased Chinese leaders are often mourned and which served as a headquarters for the student movement last spring.
Although tough anti-protest laws and surveillance of university campuses remain in place, many expressed relief that martial law was over. "This is the way it should be," said a high school student about the opening of the square to the public again.
But others, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the end of martial law will have little meaning as long as political repression continues.
"The government draws a circle and you have to stand inside," said a Beijing teacher. "It's like the Russian gulag (labor camp), only a different size," he said, adding that "we haven't forgotten the students" who stood up to the military.
Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of people were killed when troops stormed into the capital last June 3-4 to drive student demonstrators from the square. Since then, thousands of political activists have been arrested, and many languish in jail without formal charges.