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'Butcher of Beijing' Dies

Li Peng declared martial law during Tiananmen Square protests
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 24, 2019 12:01 AM CDT
In this Sept. 30, 1999, file photo, then Chinese President Jiang Zemin, right, and Li Peng, then chairman of National People's Congress raise a glass at a banquet marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment...   (AP Photo/Chung Chien-min, File)
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(Newser) – Chinese state media say former Premier Li Peng, who announced martial law during the Tiananmen Square protests, has died. The legacy of the former premier is reflected in modern China itself, where extended and broad-based economic growth is inextricably coupled with authoritarian political controls, the AP reports. Li, who died Monday at 90, warned Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protesters in May 1989 that "the situation will not develop as you wish" a day before he announced martial law. And the pet project he pushed was the Three Gorges Dam, which displaced 1.3 million people and is now the world's largest hydroelectric plant. Official Chinese media made a rare and fleeting reference to the Tiananmen crackdown while eulogizing Li, who had an unspecified illness.

Li took "resolute measures to prevent turmoil, quell the counterrevolutionary riots and stabilize the domestic situation," said part of the eulogy read by a CCTV newscaster. A Sichuan province native, Li became acting premier in November 1987 and triumphed in 1989 over pro-reform party leader Zhao Ziyang, who was toppled for sympathizing with the student protesters at Tiananmen Square. "The situation will not develop as you wish and expect," Li told student leaders in a confrontational meeting on May 18, 1989. The next night, Li, flushed with anger, went on national television to announce martial law in Beijing."The anarchic state is going from bad to worse," he said. "We are forced to take resolute and decisive measures to put an end to the turmoil." On the night of June 3-4, military troops invaded the city, killing hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of people. Li, nicknamed the "Butcher of Beijing" because of the crackdown, stepped down as premier in 1998, becoming chairman of the National People's Congress, China's parliament.

(Read more China stories.)

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