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China reduces official Tiananmen death toll to about 200

BEIJING, June 14, 1989 (UPI) - The Chinese government, which claimed 300 people died in the military assault on student-led democracy protesters in Beijing last week, Wednesday reduced the death toll to about 200 in its latest account of the bloodshed.

But a Japanese official, however, has said a Chinese Red Cross source put the number of civilian dead at 2,600.

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The latest official version of events, distributed by the official Xinhua News Agency, said the violence was started by democracy movement activists who ''ensnared hooligans, local ruffians and people with a deep-seated hatred of the Communist Party'' in a plot ''to arrest party and state leaders, and seize political power in a Bastille-style attack.'' Officials initially claimed 300 people died in the bloody June 3-5 military movement that crushed the largest outpouring of anti-government sentiment in nearly 40 years of communist rule.

But in its most detailed version of the bloodshed to date, the government reduced the toll to 200 civilians and security personnel.

Contrary to the accounts of a multitude of Chinese witnesses and foreign correspondents, the official chronology said troops endured numerous beatings and attacks and only began using their weapons on the morning of June 4, hours after they first moved toward Tiananmen Square.

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''Nearly 100 soldiers and policemen died and thousands of soldiers and policemen were wounded. The Chinese people will always cherish the memory of their contribution to defending the republic, the constitution and the people,'' Xinhua quoted the government as saying.

In its report on civilian casualties, the government said, ''The martial law troops were finally forced to fire on rioters. The result was that some 100 civilians were killed and nearly 1,000 were injured. The government and the martial law troops share the grief of the families of those killed and injured in this unavoidable tragedy.''

Hospital officials, before they stopped giving casualty figures when troops took over their facilities, confirmed the deaths of at least 321 civilians and injuries were believed to be in the thousands.

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