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China Declines Tiananmen Comment

June 11, 1998

BEIJING (AP) _ China declined to comment today on the Italian president’s unscheduled stop in Tiananmen Square, where he offered a prayer to ``all those who fell″ when the military crushed the 1989 democracy movement.

U.S. lawmakers and human rights groups are urging President Clinton to make a similar gesture when he visits Beijing in two weeks.

News of Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro’s stop Monday at the vast plaza emerged the following day after China’s President Jiang Zemin formally welcomed him there. Scalfaro told Italian reporters he had visited the square before.

``I asked to be taken to Tiananmen Square for a meditation and a prayer to remember all those who fell, with the duty of taking past experience in order to walk to the future,″ Scalfaro was quoted as saying, while Jiang stood beside him, smiling stiffly.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters died in June 1989 when Chinese troops shot their way through Beijing to reach Tiananmen Square and quell the demonstrations.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said today he did not know anything about Scalfaro’s first Tiananmen visit. When asked at a media briefing if Clinton might be allowed to do the same, Zhu said only that the White House has agreed to the formal welcoming ceremony on the square that China gives most foreign leaders.

The violent quelling of the massive student-led demonstrations remains one of China’s most sensitive political issues. Acts of mourning are outlawed there for fear they will spark renewed protests.

Update hourly