Li Peng: Chinese premier who ordered Tiananmen Square crackdown dies

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The former leader ordered a crackdown that spawned the enduring image of a protester blocking the path of three tanks.

The Chinese premier who ordered a bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square to counter pro-democracy protests has died.

Li Peng died at the age of 90 on Monday of an unspecified illness.

While he leaves behind a legacy of long-term economic growth, he is best known for his role in the demonstrations that spawned the enduring image of a protester blocking the path of three tanks.

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the centre of Beijing for a series of protests during the spring and summer of 1989, which were brought to an end in hostile fashion by the military.

Mr Li was broadly disliked by the population as a result of what happened and became known as the “Butcher of Beijing”, but still spent another 13 years at the pinnacle of power before retiring in 2002.

During that period he helped China rise in diplomatic and economic might, a development he proudly celebrated in public statements that were often defiantly nationalistic.

In a 1995 speech to mark the anniversary of the 1949 revolution that brought the ruling Communist Party to power, he celebrated how the country had rid itself from “imperialist bullying, humiliation and oppression”.

He had risen to power as a result of what happened at Tiananmen Square, with pro-reform party leader Zhao Ziyang being toppled for sympathising with the student protesters.

Mr Li, who had become acting premier in November 1987, told student leaders during a confrontational meeting that the situation “will not develop as you wish and expect”.

The next night, he went on national television to announce martial law in the capital “to end the turmoil” – and hundreds of people were killed by troops when they invaded on 3 June.

In a lengthy eulogy read by the state broadcaster CCTV to mark his death, the current regime honoured the “resolute measures” he took to quell the protests.

But it was not just Tiananmen that made him unpopular with some.

He spent his final years in power pushing through approval for the multi-billion pound Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, which forced 1.3 million people to leave homes that were swallowed up by its enormous reservoir.

He eventually stepped down as premier in 1998 to become chairman of the Chinese parliament, before retiring.

Mr Li rarely appeared in public in his later years, usually seen only at official gatherings aimed at displaying unity.

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