Former Chinese Premier Li Peng, who ordered martial law during the 1989 Tiananmen protests, has died at the age of 90. He served in several top positions in China in the 1980s and 1990s. But he was best known as the “Butcher of Beijing” for his role in the Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1989. Soldiers killed hundreds of unarmed civilians.
A engineer by training, Li rose through the ranks as an energy official. He was a champion of the Three Gorges Dam project on the Yangtze river, a massive feat of engineering that became part of his legacy. Li remained premier until 1998 as China navigated its way through the international opprobrium and sanctions imposed after the violence.
What happened in 1989?
Pro-democracy protesters occupied Tiananmen Square in April 1989 and began the largest political demonstrations in communist China’s history. They lasted six weeks. On the night of 3 June tanks moved in and troops opened fire, killing and injuring many unarmed people in and around Tiananmen Square. Afterwards the authorities said no-one had been shot dead in the square itself.
China has never given an official figure for how many people died, but estimates begin in the hundreds. Rights groups and witnesses say the number of dead could run to several thousands.