Troops backed by tanks and armored cars fought savage battles with thousands of civilians Saturday and Sunday as a crackdown on the pro-democracy movement exploded into a citywide insurrection, leaving more than 200 people dead and 600 injured, witnesses and hospital officials said.
A gray, smoke-filled dawn broke Sunday over the blood-covered streets of the city of 10 million while the military continued pouring soldiers, trucks and armored vehicles mounted with machine guns into the center of Beijing.Intermittent bursts of gunfire persisted and military helicopters circled the city convulsed by its worst violence since World War II. One of the French-made Gazelle helicopters landed several times at Tiananmen Square.
About 5 a.m. Sunday, after hours of mayhem, a massive force of soldiers, tanks and riot police wrested control of Tiananmen Square from thousands of students who had occupied the political heart of the capital since May 13 to press demands for greater freedom.
Outside the tourist-packed Beijing Hotel, more than 500 protesters repeatedly regrouped Sunday morning to hurl rocks and curses at troops.
The soldiers responded with machine-gun fire, cutting down at least 30 protesters who lay amid broken and bent bicycles. Their conditions were not known.
The troops also shot at those who tried to drag the wounded to safety, but some managed to carry victims away in three-wheel bicycle carts.
CBS correspondent Richard Roth, an American, and a member of his camera crew were beaten and dragged off by soldiers near the square during a live sound feed to the United States over a cellular telephone, said John Sheahan, the television network's Beijing bureau chief. Their whereabouts were unknown.
Several other Western journalists also were reported missing, and a French correspondent suffered a flesh wound from a bullet.
Witnesses and hospitals reported at least 209 people, including at least three security personnel, were killed in street battles that erupted Saturday night as thousands of troops moved to end the Tiananmen Square occupation and enforce a May 20 martial law declaration by Premier Li Peng.
Hospitals said at least 605 people were wounded.
The fighting between armed soldiers and citizens wielding rocks, bricks, iron rods, wooden clubs and bare fists came a day after thousands of students and civilians had held off a comparatively meager attempt by mostly unarmed troops to reach the square.
Sunday, students and civilians who survived gunfire and harsh beatings walked slowly out of the square, crying and singing the "Internationale," the anthem of world communism they adopted during their protests.
Ten armored personnel carriers roared across the plaza, flattening the squalid encampment of tents and makeshift shelters in which the students lived and around which tens of thousands of citizens rallied almost daily to support unprecedented protests against the communist government. The sit-in stirred millions of sympathizers to take to the streets in cities across the country and triggered a power struggle within the communist hierarchy over how to deal with its most serious political crisis in nearly 40 years of rule.
Despite the military crackdown, tens of thousands of civilians remained in roads around the city choked by flaming military vehicles and buses, many of the people shouting defiantly for the ouster of the government and running for cover as army convoys roared by.
Officials and staff at 11 city hospitals reported more than 189 deaths and said 605 others were treated for injuries ranging from gunshot wounds to cuts and bruises from beatings. Other hospitals said they had casualties but were either too busy or too scared to reveal the numbers. At another facility, Shuili Hospital, a foreign correspondent was led by workers to a room where 10 bodies lay on the bloody floor.
Witnesses reported seeing dozens of three-wheeled bicycle carts following in the wake of screaming ambulances, carrying an unknown number of casualties and counted at least seven dead bodies.
At least three security personnel were killed.
One died in a fierce battle between 1,000 police and thousands of citizens outside the Minzu Hotel. The second died falling from a truck hit by a tank barging through a barricade of some 15,000 civilians. The third soldier was burned to death by a crowd in a street south of Tiananmen Square.
The Beijing Government Martial Law Headquarters went on local television at 2:45 a.m. Sunday, announcing "a serious counter-revolutionary rebellion" by "thugs" who attacked the army "in an attempt to overthrow the government of the People's Republic of China and socialism."
It said the army "now must resolutely counteract the rebellion. All those who refuse to listen to reason must take full responsibility for their actions and their consequences."
A news reporter for the station said thousands of armed police and soldiers had been injured and an unspecified number killed.
The crackdown began in earnest shortly before midnight Saturday, with armored personnel vehicles barreling through streets clogged with hundreds of thousands of people and makeshift barricades set up after initial troop movements and violent confrontations throughout the afternoon and evening.
Soldiers shot indiscriminately and loosed flame-throwers, setting trees ablaze along the Avenue of Eternal Peace as they converged from several points on the downtown area, battling through crowds.
State-run Beijing Radio said "thousands of people," mostly civilians, were killed, including personnel at the station. In a highly unusual English-language report monitored in Washigton, an announcer said: "When the army convoys tried to break through, the soldiers continued to spray their bullets indescriminately at crowds in the streets."
The station later switched announcers and broadcast a news report supporting the government and suggesting that the initial report may have been made by a maverick at the station.