Home > 1987-1993 from China, China, Tienanmen > Tanks with blazing guns, armoured convoys patrol Peking

Tanks with blazing guns, armoured convoys patrol Peking

June 4, 1989

By Guy Dinmore
4 June 1989
Reuters News

PEKING, June 5, Reuter – Convoys of tanks and armoured vehicles patrolled Peking early on Monday, a day after an army assault against anti-government demonstrators in which more than 1,000 people may have been killed.

Ten tanks and 16 armoured troop carriers firing machineguns rumbled from central Tiananmen Square, the centre of seven weeks of student-led protests, along the capital’s Avenue of Eternal Peace for two miles (three km) on Sunday night to Peking’s main embassy district and then returned.

“It must be to keep people inside,” said a Western diplomat living in the area.

Two other convoys of troops in trucks and jeeps toured the narrow streets of the embassy quarter, letting off occasional shots.

Shortly after midnight a convoy of five tanks and 22 armoured troop carriers roared along central Changan Avenue to Tiananmen in what appeared to be a further attempt to cow the citizens of Peking.

The 21st of the carriers pointed its machinegun at the Peking Hotel and fired a burst at the city’s oldest guesthouse, Western correspondents staying there said.

They saw no signs of casualties or serious damage.

As the convoy approached the hotel with one of the carriers being towed, daring citizens set fire to a bus parked on the convoy’s route 400 metres east of the square.

Sporadic firing continued in the area. The streets were almost empty.

A second large convoy including more than 20 tanks and armoured troop carriers shattered the quiet of the early hours as it moved along Changan Avenue past the Peking Hotel to strengthen already large contingents on the square.

In the northwest suburbs near the university area Western witnesses saw a group of 30 military trucks and jeeps ablaze on a main ring road late on Sunday evening.

At every main intersection along the ring road looping around the north of the capital groups of two or three burnt-out vehicles were still smouldering. A platoon of steel-helmeted soldiers with rifles and fixed bayonets stood guard at one big junction.

There was no sign of any troops in the university area itself early on Monday, said Westerners who drove there.

Student leaders told them they were worried because several scores of students were still unaccounted for after the weekend assault, when troops backed by heavy armour shot people occupying the square, heart of communist China for 40 years.

The exact death toll will probably never be known.

As the scale of the conflict between troops and demonstrators became more apparent, diplomats said it was possible that more than 1,000 people were killed in the night of carnage.

State radio justified the use of force and praised troops for “upholding the endless revolutionary spirit of Chairman Deng Xiaoping” — China’s 84-year-old senior leader who along with hardline Premier Li Peng is the apparent victor over reformist party leader Zhao Ziyang in a struggle for power over the 1.1 billion Chinese.

Peking Mayor Chen Xitong said in a speech read out on state television: “There is no turning back.

“Do not take part in demonstrations and counter-revolutionary activities.”

But students who for seven weeks have been campaigning for democratic reforms and an end to corruption prepared to defend their campuses in Peking against an expected military invasion.

More than 1,000 students crowded around the gates of Peking University, a Chinese academic said.

“They expect the military to come. If they do the entire neighbourhood will come to protect them. Our consciousness is very high. We do not fear the army despite what happened,” he said.

Mayor Chen said Peking was facing the most serious counter-revolutionary violence since the 1949 revolution.

“Peking remains in crisis,” he said. “In this critical situation we have no choice but to adopt special measures to smash this counter-revolutionary violence.”

More than 1,000 troops were injured on Saturday and Sunday. Some were beaten to death, Chen said. He did not give exact figures.

Premier Li declared martial law in Peking on May 20 to quell the biggest anti-government demonstrations in the four decades of communist rule.

A student union official in the central city of Wuhan said on Sunday that more than 10,000 students started “anti-violence” demonstrations in the morning. Students later lay across the tracks of the Peking-Canton Railway, paralysing China’s north-south lifeline from afternoon to evening.

Witnesses reported protest marches in the southern city of Changsha, in Shanghai to the east and in Dalian and Shenyang in the north.

The CBS television network said in New York on Sunday that Peking correspondent Richard Roth, 40, and his cameraman Derek Williams, 42, were released after being held for 19 hours at the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square.

It said eight American tourists held with Roth were also released.

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