01/22/2005, 00.00
HONG KONG - CHINA
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15,000 attend vigil for Zhao Ziyang

Many mainlanders also participated in the service. A group of party elders urge leaders to grant proper funeral honours to former leader who was ousted after Tiananmen.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 15,000 people, many from mainland China, came to the memorial vigil for Zhao Ziyang held yesterday at Victoria Park.

A makeshift funeral altar was set up inside the park, dominated by Zhao's picture with words recalling what Zhao and the students said during the days leading up to June 4, 1989 massacre.

The altar was packed with bouquets and mourners filled a 'democracy wall' with words of condolence.

The service began with a video display that presented some of the highlights of the 1989 student protest as well Zhao's speech by which he tried to avoid the massacre. That speech cost him almost 16 years of house arrest.

Hong Kong residents and overseas Chinese sent messages of expressing their sorrow.

Szeto Wah, chairman of the Alliance in Support of Democratic Patriotic Movements in China, told the crowd that their "turnout was testimony to the public's respect for the former leader."

In his eulogy, Mr Szeto said that fighting to vindicate the student pro-democracy movement would be the best way to honour the late leader.

June 4, 1989 "was the most tragic chapter in his life," Mr Szeto said. "And yet, it's also the most glorious. His tragedy is also the tragedy of the Chinese people."

Mr Zhao was praised for his attempts at reform and for the role he played in Hong Kong's reunification with China under a system that guaranteed the territory's autonomy.

The vigil went off without a hitch. When a speaker mentioned Legislative Council President Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai the crowd booed because of her decision not to allow legislators to observe a minute of silence for the fallen leader whom she said was not be comparable to Deng.

Zhao Shouyong, a farmer from Anhui visiting relatives in Hong Kong, said that "in China rallies for Zhao were not allowed". He called Zhao "someone who considered what was good for the people as the most important thing".

Simon Lee Kam-hung, 43, attended the vigil with his four children. For him, Zhao "was a true hero. He had the courage to do what needed to be done".

In Beijing a group of party elders have urged party leaders to grant the former leader proper funeral honours.

Their request has embarrassed and divided the party's top brass. Some agree with the elders since Zhao was once the top party leader. However, most are edgy—the government is concerned that people, many of whom see Zhao as a pro-democracy reformer, might take advantage of the funeral to turn it into a protest rally or a riot.

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