01/29/2005, 00.00
CHINA
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About 2,000 people attend Zhao's funeral

Authorities ban photos, wreaths and eulogies. Police put dissidents under house arrest. For the first time, state-run TV talks about Zhao's death.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The funeral of Zhao Ziyang took place at 9 am this morning (local time) at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery, in western Beijing. The ceremony lasted three hours following which the body, draped in the flag of the Communist Party, was cremated. The ashes were then brought back to Zhao's home in Fuqiang Alley.

About 2,000 invited guests were allowed to attend the ceremony after going tight police controls and ID checks by both uniformed and plain-clothes security officers.

Although the family submitted its own guest list, the decision about who would come and would not was made by the authorities. Journalists, foreigners, and Honk Kong residents were excluded. No eulogy was allowed because the family and the authorities could not agree over Zhao's 'grave error" in 1989.

Guests were not allowed to bring their own flowers but had to lay government-prepared wreaths with already-made inscriptions such as Commemorating Zhao Ziyang with a heavy heart. No one could pause before the body nor take pictures.

Zhao's widow, Liang Boqi, 86, did not attend the funeral. Her daughter has not yet informed her about her husband's death out of concern that it might aggravate her already ailing heart.

A few senior officials of the Communist Party attended the funeral, among them Jia Qinglin (fourth in the party's hierarchy), He Guoqiang, Wang Gang and Hua Jianmin. Mr Jia conveyed the party's condolences to the family.

Former Vice-Premier Tian Jiyun and several former Guangdong leaders such as Ren Zhongyi, Zhu Senlin and Li Ziliu also took part in the ceremony.

Worried about possible protests, the authorities placed police units at every corner of Changan Avenue, the main thoroughfare that bisects the capital.

Dissidents tied to the Tiananmen affair were placed under house arrest. Ms Ding Zilin, who heads the Tiananmen Mothers, spoke to a reporter by the phone. "Everyday I tell the plainclothes officers outside my home that I want to go [to the funeral]," she said before the phone was disconnected. In the end she was unable to leave.

Bao Tong, Zhao's former top aide, was denied an invitation. A few days ago he and his wife were roughly manhandled by security officers when they tried to visit the Zhao home to pay their respects.

For the first time since Zhao's death on January 17, indeed the first time since 1989, state-run television mentioned the name of the former party leader to announce his funeral and cremation. No image was however broadcast.

State-owned Xinhua news agency gave a somewhat wider coverage to the event stressing Zhao's contributions to reforming China's economy but also saying he had made "serious" mistakes in handling the Tiananmen protests. No mention was made of the fact that the former party leader had been under house arrest for 16 years.

Mr Zhao was removed from office after June 1989 because he sympathised with student protesters calling for greater democracy in China—going as far as talking to them in Tiananmen Square—and opposed a military crackdown against the students and workers who had taken over the square.

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