Li Peng, the ‘Butcher of Beijing’, dies aged 90

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In this Oct. 24, 2017, photo, former Chinese Premier Li Peng, reach for his neck during the closing session of China's 19th Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. (AP)
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This photo taken on December 11, 1991 in Beijing shows Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng delivering a speech prior to his departure to India. (AFP)
Updated 24 July 2019

Li Peng, the ‘Butcher of Beijing’, dies aged 90

  • Two days before the declaration of martial law, Li met with student leaders, who cut him off and rebuked him for not addressing their demands in a surreal scene broadcast live on television

BEIJING: Former Chinese premier Li Peng — known as the “Butcher of Beijing” for his role in the Tiananmen Square crackdown — has died at the age of 90, state media said Tuesday.
Li died of an unspecified illness in Beijing after he failed to respond to medical treatment late Monday, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Li gained notoriety worldwide as one of the key architects of the brutal breakup of mass pro-democracy demonstrations in the capital on June 4, 1989, and stayed at the top of the Communist regime for more than a decade — remaining a hated symbol of the repression until his death.
Xinhua said Tuesday that Li “took decisive measures to stop the turmoil... and played an important role in this major struggle concerning the future fate of the party and the country.”
After vast crowds of students, workers and others had been encamped for weeks in Tiananmen Square to demand change, Li proclaimed martial law on May 20, 1989.
Two weeks later, on the night of June 3-4, the military put a bloody end to the protests, killing hundreds of unarmed civilians — by some estimates more than 1,000.
Though the decision to send in the troops was a collective one, Li was widely held responsible for the bloody crackdown.
It trailed him to the end of his official political career in 2003, with his trips abroad generating widespread protests — such as in Paris in 1996, where more than 2,000 took to the streets to decry his welcome by president Jacques Chirac.
Nevertheless, he remained a member of the elite Politburo Standing Committee for 15 years and for most of the 1990s, ranked number two behind then Chinese president Jiang Zemin.
He held the premiership for 11 years until 1998, and was chairman of China’s Communist-controlled parliament until 2003.
Former student leader Wu’er Kaixi, who famously confronted Li during a televised meeting and now lives in Taiwan, said his death “can’t bring any comfort to the families of the victims of June 4.”
“I believe that even if he dies, there will come a day when his corpse will be whipped!” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Chinese Internet censors were swift in blocking all comments about Li as news of his death spread, but before the cleanup several people had written on the Twitter-like platform Weibo that they “dare not say what he did.”

Li spent his childhood in the shadow of Zhou Enlai, China’s premier for nearly three decades and possibly the Communist Party’s most skilled politician.
Born in 1928 in the southwestern province of Sichuan, Li was adopted at the age of three by Zhou after his Communist father became a “martyr of the Revolution,” killed by the Kuomintang in 1931.
He joined the Communist Party at the age of 17 and was dispatched to Moscow in 1948 for seven years of hydropower engineering study.
After returning to China, his high-level family contacts allowed him to escape the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and rise through the energy ministry. He became premier in 1987.
A conservative economic planner thought to retain faith in the old Soviet style of central planning, he was a key player in the Three Gorges Dam hydro project on the Yangtze river — the world’s largest by capacity.
When demonstrations erupted at Tiananmen in 1989, he and other hard-liners outmaneuvered dovish officials, with Li afterwards defending the decision to fire on demonstrators as “necessary.”

Two days before the declaration of martial law, Li met with student leaders, who cut him off and rebuked him for not addressing their demands in a surreal scene broadcast live on television.
In later years, Li tried to minimize his role in the bloodshed, presenting himself as merely executing decisions made by Deng Xiaoping — who died in 1997 — and other party elders, according to extracts from a diary published in 2010 and attributed to Li.
But in the “Tiananmen Papers,” apparently secret Communist Party documents made public in the US in 2001, Li instead appears to be the instigator of the crackdown, striving to convince Deng to send tanks to the square.
The authenticity of these documents has never been proven. Communist authorities block discussion of the crackdown.
A father of three, Li saw his family’s reputation tarnished in the early 2000s by his son Li Xiaopeng, then president of Huaneng Power International, who was suspected of having enriched himself by buying shares in the firm.
His daughter Li Xiaolin — who reportedly resigned as vice president of a state-owned power company in 2018 — is also known for her luxurious tastes.


Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

Updated 04 July 2020

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

  • Young volunteers tackle tough terrain, pandemic myths in isolated northern region

JAKARTA: A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, told Arab News that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he told Arab News.

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he told Arab News.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.