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China debuts at World Cup on Tiananmen anniversary

PLA guards
China's tight security apparatus is bracing for the country's World Cup debut  

Staff and wires

(CNN) -- Beijing is taking multi-pronged steps to ensure that "anti-government elements" don't take advantage of China's Word Cup debut to stage June 4-related protests.

The match against Costa Rica in Gwangju, South Korea, is expected to draw an audience of some 80 million fans in China.

Diplomatic sources in China and South Korean said Beijing asked Seoul to take appropriate action to prevent anti-Chinese protests at the stadium, which could reach a huge TV audience in China.

Meanwhile, security sources in Beijing said police would turn out in force at Tiananmen Square as well as the beer gardens where tens of thousand of fans would be watching the game on huge TV screens.

The match coincides with the 13th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

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The Associated Press quoted a South Korean foreign ministry official as saying the government had promised to stop activities he described as illegal.

South Korean police, 3,000 of which will be deployed at the match on Tuesday, said they won't permit even peaceful protests at the game.

"If a demonstrator is caught flying a banner, he or she will immediately be taken away for questioning or handed over to the Chinese Embassy," Byung Han-seon, a police official in Gwangju, told The Associated Press.

Beijing nervous

Guangju is the site of a 1980 incident when about 200 students and residents died in the wake of suppression by South Korean army and police.

Frank Lu, head of the Hong Kong Information Center for Democracy in China, said Beijing was not concerned about the estimated 20,000 Chinese soccer fans who traveled from the mainland to Gwangju for Tuesday's game.

However he said the government was more worried about overseas Chinese.

"Beijing is nervous about overseas Chinese and foreigners mounting June 4-related banners and placards at the stadium," he told CNN.

He added Beijing also feared that if China were to lose the game, frustrated soccer fans in the capital would hit the streets and they could be encouraged by dissidents and other "subversive" elements to shout anti-government slogans.

Dissidents detained

As with past June 4 anniversaries, hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes policemen were stationed at Tiananmen Square in early Tuesday.

Reuters quoted a police officer as saying soccer fans could celebrate in the streets if they "don't make trouble."

The officer said, however, that merry-making fans should steer clear of the Square.

In previous years, dissidents have distributed leaflets or laid wreaths at the Square.

Lu's center said police detained a pro-democracy lawyer in the southern city of Guangzhou for seven hours after he applied for a permit to hold a candlelight memorial for 30 people.

Li Wensheng was taken from his home on Sunday and told not to leave home on Tuesday.

At least two other dissidents have been taken from their homes and their whereabouts are unknown, according to the Information Center.

Other dissidents and relatives of people killed in the crackdown said they had been put under heavy surveillance and told either to stay at home or to leave Beijing during the anniversary period.

Tiananmen mothers

Chinese military police officers
China's efforts to prevent any commemoration of the pro-democracy movement is especially robust this year  

Ding Zilin, whose son was killed in the crackdown, said the government might be hoping that the game would distract people from the anniversary.

The retired college professor told The Associated Press police had followed her since she mailed letters last month signed by 20 family members of the dead asking China's top leaders for dialogue.

"People may watch the game and not think about the anniversary, that's their choice. But for us, we'll remember and continue to push out country's leaders to open this historical knot," Ding said.

Sources in the dissident community said Beijing's main worry this year was that the Tiananmen Mothers and other dissident groups might be given massive support by Western governments and international groups.

The Tiananmen Mothers, a few dozens parents of June 4 victims such as Professor Ding, have lobbied global organizations to put pressure on Beijing to overturn the verdict on the massacre.

The groups has been nominated for the Nobel peace prize for this year.

By contrast, all was quiet in Peking University and other educational institutes in Beijing's northwestern college district.

A Tsinghua University professor said most college students were less than ten years old in 1989 and that their main preoccupation was fighting for jobs and going abroad, not politics.




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