China declared martial law in parts of the capital Saturday to crack down on hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating for political reform. The government sent in troops, but residents blocked army trucks and some soldiers turned back waving victory signs.
Martial law began at 10 a.m. (7 p.m. MST Friday) in eight districts in the central city, including Tiananmen Square, the center of the protests. No curfew was imposed, and no date was given for lifting martial law.Shortly after martial law took effect, military helicopters were seen flying over the 100-acre square.
(ABC's "Nightline" reported that witnesses had seen police clubbing protesters.)
The protesters, thousands of them on a hunger strike, have occupied Tiananmen Square for a week, demanding talks with the government, a free press and an end to official corruption.
Three tanks just south of the square were being blocked by buses deliberately placed across the road by protesters. No troops were seen in the square, but medical workers were distributing gauze in case of a tear gas attack.
Premier Li Peng said the protesters threatened Communist Party rule and were being manipulated by people who wanted to overthrow the government.
Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang, who opposed a crackdown, offered to resign but the party had not acted on his offer, sources said.
The English-language China Daily still referred to Zhao in Saturday's edition as party general secretary. A reporter said he did not know about Zhao's political status but had heard he was sick.
It appeared clear, however, that the moderate Zhao had lost out to the hard-line Li in the government's decision to confront the protesting students.
The official Xinhua News Agency said Li signed the martial law order to put an end to "serious turmoil . . . (that) destroyed people's life and social order."
Beijing Mayor Chen Xitong signed six measures forbidding marches, strikes, class boycotts, distribution of pamphlets, spreading rumors, attacks on leaders and media outlets and "any other destructive actions."
Chen said soldiers were authorized to take any measures necessary to maintain order in the city of 10 million.
In a separate order, he said foreign reporters were forbidden to "incite or instigate Chinese to march" and could not conduct interviews or make tapes or videos on the streets or at government offices, schools, factories and mines. "Any violators will be stopped according to the law," the order said.
The government ordered the Cable News Network to halt transmissions, and the network had to end its coverage at about 10:10 p.m. EDT. CBS and ABC also said officials cut off their transmissions.
CNN reported that even China Central Television, the state-run network, had been shut down after the martial-law order was broadcast.
It is the first time martial law has been declared in Beijing since Communist China was founded in 1949. Beijing becomes the second city under martial law. Lhasa, capital of Tibet, has been under martial law since March after anti-Chinese riots.
Soldiers began moving into the city from the east and west before dawn, but thousands of local residents poured into the streets to surround troop trucks. They parked factory trucks and buses across key intersections to serve as barriers, lifted lane dividers across the road and at some places formed human barricades.
"We are people and you are people! Why do you have no feelings?" one demonstrator shouted at the troopers.
Military helicopters made repeated low runs over the city, a rare sight.
About 15 trucks, each filled with about two dozen soldiers, turned around and drove back the way they came after about 500 students and supporters surrounded them for several hours in western Beijing and urged them to leave.
"You should think about what you are doing," one young man said earnestly, standing on a truck's rear bumper and looking into the faces of about a dozen soldiers. No weapons were visible.
When the trucks turned around, the crowd cheered and some soldiers smiled, waved and flashed V-for-victory signs.
More than 200 trucks and 50 vans filled with soldiers still stood further down the road to the west, blocked by thousands of protesters. About 10 sat on the east side of the city, but a bus parked across the road blocked the way.
President Yang Shangkun said the army's task was to protect important ministries and key installations.
Zhao was not visible in the audience as Li and Yang announced the troop deployment in a nationally televised address. Also not shown was senior leader Deng Xiaoping, 84, believed to be the main force behind the crackdown.