PEKING -- Mindful of simmering student unrest, Chinese authorities are playing down this weekend's 10th anniversary of the massive Peking riot that signaled the rise of Deng Xiaoping and the end of the Cultural Revolution.
Vice Premier Li Peng, however, today acknowledged at a news conference the historical importance of the 1976 Tiananmen Square incident in which 100,000 demonstrators protesting the government's leftist policies clashed with police in the heart of Peking.
The April 5, 1976 riot began when police removed hundreds of wreaths placed in the square to honor the late Premier Chou Enlai and to show respect for his moderation during the turmoil of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
Also among the wreaths were placards supporting Deng, a Cultural Revolution victim, and others denouncing the leader of the so-called Gang of Four, Jiang Qing, wife of the then ailing Mao Tsetung.
Jiang Qing and China's radical left leaders ordered the wreaths removed, sparking rioting that ended with the arrests of 388 Chinese.
The Gang of Four was arrested in October 1976, shortly after the death of Mao, and Deng soon emerged as the decisive figure in Chinese politics.
Participants in the Tiananmen Incident were later hailed as 'true revolutionaries' despite their direct disobedience of the leftist-dominated Communist Party.
Referring to recent student protests, Li said the current government opposes public demonstrations because 'times are different' and 'our policies are correct.'
He acknowledged there had been a 'little bit of turbulence' last autumn among a 'small number of students' protesting government economic policies and high-level corruption and favoritism.
Li insisted, however, the students have now been 'enlightened' and fully support the Communist Party.
'There are still shortcomings and we make mistakes, but these should not be dealt with in the same way as the Tiananmen incident, which was fighting an erroneous line,' Li said, adding that the 1976 riot is 'already history.'
Western diplomats said Peking appears to be playing down the 10th anniversary, perhaps fearing it could be used as an excuse for further unauthorized protests.
'None of the complaints aired by the students last year have really been solved, particularly corruption and the problem of nepotism within the Communist Party,' one diplomat said. 'There is still widespread cynicism on university campuses. I would still be concerned if I was the government.'
Li announced that commemorative activities of an 'appropriate scale' were planned for Friday, but there was no announcement of where they would take place.