July 23 (UPI) -- Former Chinese Premier Li Peng, known for leading the the nation during its infamous crackdown of peaceful demonstrators in Tiananmen Square three decades ago, died Monday. He was 91.
Li died late Monday, state news agency Xinhua reported. A cause was not given.
Li was nicknamed the "butcher of Beijing" for the bloody military response he ordered against student protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989, when he was chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee. He was premier between 1987 and 1998.
"It is an open secret that Li was the man behind the so-called April 26 People's Daily editorial denouncing the student protests as premeditated and organized turmoil with anti-party and anti-socialist motives," Lee Cheuk-yan, secretary of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, told the South China Morning Post.
"It angered the students and they had to stand firmer ... Li's hardline approach worsened the protests, resulting in the massacre. I don't think he will be easily forgiven by Chinese people."
Li had said the protests were sparked by "a coalition of foreign and domestic reactionary forces" that justified the use of the Chinese military to break up the demonstrations.
"It's impossible to divorce Li Peng's legacy from his role in the Tiananmen Square crackdown," Jude Blanchette, an author and scholar of Chinese politics, told The Washington Post. "When it came time to decide the future direction of China, Li chose the party's security over the people's freedom."
Li began his career as an electrical engineer and supported the Three gorges Dam, now the world's largest hydropower project. The government in Beijing forcibly removed those living along the Yangtze River for the project.