Eyewitness: Tiananmen, the night dreams became nightmares

Eyewitness: Tiananmen, the night dreams became nightmares

BEIJING - "They're shooting!" The cry spreads through the Beijing crowd at 11:30 pm, as the first clicks from the army's AK-47s ring out into the darkness.

On the Avenue of Eternal Peace, the wide street running north of Tiananmen Square, one protester refuses to believe it.

"No, no, they wouldn't shoot," he insists, stripped to the waist on this humid June night.

"They're the people's army."

But a moment later there is no doubt. A tricycle cuts through the throngs of protesters. It's an ambulance now. Slumped on a plank of wood behind is the bloodied body of a student, his stomach ripped by several bullets.

For 50 days, the symbolic heart of the Chinese state had become a huge and peaceful experiment - hundreds of thousands of people, dreaming of democracy and freedom, as the Cold War wound down.

Day and night, Chinese citizens from all walks of life imagined a different future - one that was not dictated by the Communist Party. But the discussions they sought with authorities turned into a dialogue of the deaf.

In front of the world's cameramen - who had gathered here to cover a reconciliation summit between Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and the Soviet Union's Mikhail Gorbachev on May 15 - the horror unfolded.

Massed ranks of soldiers drafted in from outside Beijing - whose city forces were deemed too sympathetic to the protesters - launched an operation to take back control of Tiananmen Square on the night of June 3-4.

Martial law had been declared two weeks earlier, but did not have the government's desired effect - merely swelling the numbers of protesters.

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