1,000 in candlelight tribute to HK activist Szeto

Hundreds of Hong Kongers held aloft white candles at a local park Sunday in tribute to late democracy activist Szeto Wah, a leading campaigner for the victims of Beijing's 1989 crackdown on protesters at Tiananmen Square and a voice for mainland dissidents.

About 1,000 mourners gathered at the southern Chinese territory's Victoria Park, watching footage of Szeto and singing songs with pro-democracy themes, including a Chinese version of "We Shall Overcome" with lyrics co-written by Szeto.

Szeto died Jan. 2 of lung cancer. Sunday's candlelight vigil was held a day before what would have been his 80th birthday.

The veteran democracy campaigner started out as a union organizer for teachers but was galvanized by the 1989 pro-democracy student protests centered at Beijing's Tiananmen Square. With others, he set up a support group for Chinese democracy activists that has continued to operate despite Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule in 1997. The group organizes an annual candlelight vigil to mourn the crackdown, which killed at least hundreds. The vigil typically draws tens of thousands of Hong Kongers.

On Sunday, exiled Tiananmen student leader Wang Dan said in a taped video message to the gathering that one of Szeto's major contributions was preserving the memory of the Tiananmen movement, which the Chinese government still considers subversive.

"After all these years of hard work, we can see that young people in Hong Kong born in the 1990s are more concerned about society and public policy. As for the Tiananmen crackdown, even though they weren't born then, they are still passionate about it," said Wang, who is currently a professor in Taiwan and was denied entry to Hong Kong for Szeto's Jan. 29 funeral.

Albert Cheung, a 35-year-old participant in Sunday's vigil, said Szeto "supported democracy for his whole life. That's why I wanted to come with my friends. It is a form of paying my respects."