China bids final farewell to former leader

BEIJING (AP) — With piercing sirens, China bade a final farewell Tuesday to Deng Xiaoping, as 10,000 of the nation’s Communist elite gathered in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People to mourn his passing.
Tuesday’s memorial was a solemn and constrained affair, in keeping with a family request to honor Deng’s wish for a simple ceremony.
“Today, we are at the Great Hall of the People … to hold a memorial meeting and mourn for our beloved Comrade Deng Xiaoping with profound grief,” said Deng’s handpicked political heir, President Jiang Zemin, in a voice laden with emotion, wiping his eyes as he gave a somber tribute.
Deng’s ashes sat in a casket cloaked by China’s red flag with five gold stars, amid white flowers and evergreens. A placid portrait of the late leader overlooked the gathering.
The national anthem played. Jiang stood before the gathering and delivered his eulogy.
“The Chinese people love Comrade Deng Xiaoping, thank Comrade Deng Xiaoping, mourn for Comrade Deng Xiaoping, and cherish the memory of Comrade Deng Xiaoping because he devoted his life-long energies to the Chinese people, performed immortal feats for the independence and liberation of the Chinese nation,” Jiang said.
After Jiang’s almost 50-minute speech summing up Deng’s career, Premier Li Peng led the gathering in bowing three times, defying Deng’s wishes that there be no such traditional shows of reverence.
After the memorial, Deng’s ashes were to be scattered at sea, at his family’s request.
The 10,000 mourners in dark suits and military uniforms with white flowers pinned to their lapels stood with heads bowed, packing to its highest tiers the massive legislative building next to Tiananmen Square, where troops acting on Deng’s orders crushed 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations.
At the ceremony’s conclusion, a band played a quick tribute and then switched to a funeral dirge as Jiang and other leaders filed out of the hall, shaking hands with Deng’s family as they left.
Police sealed off the square at the heart of Beijing early Tuesday as thousands of mourners’ vehicles were parked in its vast expanse and soldiers practiced marching.
Outside, crowds were kept back and police quickly quashed any attempts at spontaneous mourning, alert for any sign of emotion that could trigger unrest. The 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations began with unplanned outbursts after the death of ousted Communist Party head Hu Yaobang.
Early Tuesday, an elderly couple who crossed Tiananmen saying that Deng had been a great man were bundled into a police van after they attracted the attention of a number of journalists.
Near the square, people gathered in front of store televisions to watch the nationally broadcast memorial.
But life bustled by on most busy Beijing streets, so noisy that the sirens blasted by trains, ships and factories could not be heard throughout the city.
Construction workers building a shopping mall in central Beijing emerged from the site into the street a few minutes before the ceremony started.
“We came out to hear the sirens … Comrade Xiaoping in the people’s hearts is really OK,” said a 40-ish construction worker surnamed Gol.
Disappointed they could not hear the sound, the workers returned to the construction site. Gol said, “It’s just like it is every day.”
Activity along Wangfujiang street seemed little changed by the memorial service, but inside the government-run Foreign Language Bookstore a group of workers and shoppers stood somber-faced watching the televised service.
Determined to show all China that they have inherited the mantle of leadership from the party patriarch, Deng’s successors also had bowed low before his body at the cremation Monday.
“Daddy, you haven’t died,” wailed Deng Rong, youngest of his three daughters. Middle daughter Deng Nan smoothed and kissed his forehead.
Jiang led colleagues in a long, slow procession past Deng’s body as it lay on a bier among flowers at a military hospital in west Beijing.