BEIJING, June 4, 1989 (UPI) - The Gate of Heavenly Peace became a killing field Saturday night as blood flowed and bodies fell on the once immaculate concrete tiles of Tiananmen Square.
The conflict began fitfully around 10 p.m. as reports filtered in that large troop convoys and armored vehicles were rolling towards the sprawling esplanade. Hundreds of uniformed soldiers without weapons then appeared suddenly by the nearby Beijing Hotel.
Thousands of enraged citizens collared the troops, dragging them from their lines and surrounding them in tight knots.
''How can you do this?'' they screamed. The troops slunk off into a side street.
But by midnight, word of wide-scale violence reached leaders of thousands of students who occupied the square since May 13 to demand more freedom. They had set up headquarters at the Monument to the Peoples Heroes -- a stone obelisk erected to honor those killed in the 1949 revolution that put the communist leadership in power.
The reports quickly became reality as gunfire erupted to the west and convoys converged rapidly from different directions.
Students removed large sticks used to support the tents of their squalid squatters' colony, broke them and sharpened the ends.
Soon after, the first armored personnel carriers growled into the square. Then troop columns began arriving as tens of thousands of citizens poured into the 100-acre plaza from the northeast and northwest to defend the students.
Dozens of troop trucks and armored vehicles drew up on the north end of the square, lining up along Tiananmen Gate, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, under the huge portrait of Mao Tsetung that hangs on the one-time imperial palace at the Forbidden City.
Thousands of angry protesters flocked to confront the gun-toting military, brandishing wooden stakes, chunks of pavement, bricks, metal rods and gasoline-filled bottles.
A 15-year-old girl carried a Molotov cocktail. Young men swarmed over an armored personnel carrier and set it ablaze.
The soldiers started firing and protesters fell.
At least two dozen people were carried like sacks by comrades back to first-aid stations run in the square by volunteer doctors, who worked feverishly to stem gushing wounds as dark red stains spread on the tiles of the world's largest public square, reknowned for its socialist cleanliness.
''The police have killed many people,'' students cried over their public address system as others donned white surgical masks against tear gas.
By 2 a.m., fires were burning ferociously in public buses and trucks used by the protesters as barricades, their flames reflecting from a white plaster-on-Styrofoam figure resembling the Statue of Liberty and dubbed ''The Spirit of Democracy.'' The statue, erected by students, was torn down by the troops and taken away.
A young Chinese photographer rushed up to the Monument to the Peoples' Heroes to display a lens shattered by a bullet and a 2-inch gash in his abdomen.
The lens was on his belt in a bag and took most of the force of the steel-jacketed round.
As gunfire and the whine of ricocheting bullets grew, another armored personnel carrier careened into the square. Enraged citizen hurled rocks, sticks and garbage, but the metal behemoth drove on.
At 3:15 a.m., the students announced on the public address system that they were ready to negotiate with troops of one of the world's largest armies. But the die was cast.
A column of about 200 soldiers, bayonets fixed and eyes moving as if hunting for snipers, marched from the south toward the Great Hall of the People, which flanks the square's west side. Crowds defiantly jeered, chanting ''fascists, fascists.''
''The Peoples Army does not belong to the people,'' a student leader said.
At 4 a.m., the lights on the square were turned off. Thousands of troops swarmed out onto the steps of the Great Hall of the People, illuminated by a powerful spotlight. But the students played the ''Internationale,'' the world communist anthem they adopted for their movement.
Tens of thousands of people slowly poured into the square from side streets, singing emotionally in the dark to demand freedom.
Gunfire was rampant, although much of it appeared to be in the air.
An American television producer poked up her head and camera and the soldiers forming lines around the north end of the square loosed rounds above her head. Many in the crowds began fleeing.
By 5 a.m., at least 10 armored personnel carriers crushed the students' tents as several hundred students huddled on the steps of the monument.
''We are all not afraid,'' shouted one.
Two busloads of riot police arrived and students later said troops then came to the monument, surrounding its base and shooting in the air. They said riot police beat them with sticks, driving the remnants of protesters out of the east side of the square.
One young man had a bloody gash on his forehead. Another wore a towel around his neck damp with bright blood. A few limped.
By mid-morning, the square was empty of the crowds who were replaced by a sea of green uniforms, at least a dozen tanks and assorted trucks and armored personnel carriers which gave the appearance of a military parade.