Thousands yesterday took part in the first of two events to mark the 20th anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing.
More than 8,000 people joined the march from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to government headquarters in Central, according to organizer the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China. Police said only 4,700 started the march and that 4,150 reached Central.
At the front were a group of 20-year- olds who were born in 1989.
They were joined by Xiong Yan, who at one time was on the list of the 21 most- wanted Tiananmen protesters. After two years in jail, he escaped to the West through Hong Kong. He is now a US Army chaplain.
He told reporters he was happy to be back on Chinese soil after an exile of 17 years and that he hoped to be one day allowed to set foot in Beijing again.
However, Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot, who had created the "Pillar of Shame" to commemorate the Tiananmen Square incident, was stopped at the airport when he arrived and held for six hours before being denied entry.
"No real reason was given by the Immigration Department. We wonder whether it was a decision made by the Hong Kong government," said Lasse Markus Galschiot, one of the sculptor's two sons who were allowed to enter.
He suspected the ban was linked to the recent visit of the Dalai Lama to Denmark where he had a meeting with Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen.
Lo Hoi-ching, a Form Seven student born in 1989 and who was among the rally leaders, said she hoped more people will look for information from YouTube and online to understand this section of Chinese history which is not covered in school lessons. Hundreds of protesters, mostly students, calling for reforms were killed in the 1989 crackdown.
Alliance chairman Szeto Wah said yesterday's attendance was up on last year's since the Hong Kong people cared about the 20th anniversary as well as controversial remarks made by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and others. He expected more people will turn up at the annual candlelight vigil on Thursday. Many of the marchers chanted slogans or carried placards calling on Beijing to reverse its verdict that the June 4 incident was a counterrevolutionary plot to overthrow the government.
"This protest is not about Donald Tsang's remarks. It is telling our children what had happened in history," said Ms Ching, who marched with her four-year- old son.