01/24/2005, 00.00
CHINA
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Doubts linger over Zhao's funeral

Funeral arrangements for the late party leader have not yet been decided because of a dispute between the authorities and the family over biographical details. Overseas Chinese continue to remember him.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Zhao Ziyang's family and the government are still discussing the funeral arrangements of the ousted leader.  The authorities want his biography to censure his "grave error" in 1989 when he spoke to student demonstrators—the goal is to justify to the world the Tiananmen Square massacre. The family disagrees.

"We want it [the funeral] to take place as soon as possible but we can't agree on his biography, that is, on the details of what he did in which year," a family spokesperson said. "Zhao never accepted the verdict" that he made a mistake.

According to Chinese funeral custom, the deceased must be buried on the fifth or seventh day after death but plans for Zhao's funeral are still not settled on the eight day.

Despite a media blackout, family members said yesterday that more than 3,000 people had visited Zhao's home in Beijing. Government sources admit that only relatives were allowed to visit.

Meanwhile, the chorus of voices demanding a public memorial service is not letting up.

On Friday, Beijing police detained the organiser of a planned 5,000-strong protest march to mourn Zhao, the organiser's wife and sources said yesterday.

So far, the only public ceremony in China to commemorate Zhao took place in Hong Kong. Some 15,000 people participated in candlelight vigil in the Autonomous Territory's Victoria Park. But they were not alone.

Hundreds of overseas Chinese braved snowstorms in New York to pay their respects to Zhao Ziyang at a formal memorial service.

Exiled Chinese dissidents, scholars, politicians and representatives of local communist groups gathered at the Big Apple's Sheraton Hotel in one of the biggest rallies of overseas Chinese seen in the area.

Wreaths and garlands were placed throughout the hotel's conference room and attendants solemnly bowed to a black and white portrait of Zhao after eulogies were read by his former advisers, Yan Jiaqi and Chen Yizi .

Describing the gathering as unprecedented, Mr Yan said: "Zhao Ziyang symbolises the call for democracy and freedom in China. We are making an important and forceful political expression here for those who cannot speak their thoughts in China now. This shows that overseas Chinese can put aside their political agendas and party lines to work in unison for a greater cause."

Mr Yan also called on Beijing to allow a public memorial for Zhao on the mainland. "Zhao is no ordinary man," he said. "He should not be denied an overdue confirmation of his contributions to China's economic and social reforms—the fruits we enjoy today."

Bao Tong, Zhao's former personal secretary who is under close police scrutiny in Beijing, sent a wreath and a faxed eulogy.

Pro-democracy Chinese expatriates also gathered in Tokyo to commemorate the late former leader.

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