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China is nowhere near the democracy envisioned by protesters in 1989

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Paramilitary policemen salute each other under a giant portrait of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 3.   © Reuters

HONG KONG/BEIJING In the 27 years since its violent suppression of a peaceful demonstration in Tiananmen Square, China has come a long way in many respects -- but not in terms of the democracy and human rights that students and other citizens demanded in 1989. Unlike the nation's economic growth and the gain in political clout that more or less resulted from it, progress on even the most basic rights for citizens has stalled.

When tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong flocked to Victoria Park and a few other venues on June 4 to commemorate the deaths of unarmed civilians in 1989, Tiananmen Square was guarded by police armed with rifles, and armored vehicles and fire engines were mobilized. Entrances to the Muxidi subway station, where many young lives were lost 27 years ago, were closed off. Wanan Cemetery on the outskirts of Beijing, where some victims were laid to rest, was closed to the general public.

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