The Chinese flag was flown at half-mast at Tiananmen Square on Monday in honour of late former premier Li Peng, a hardliner in the crackdown on protesters who occupied the Beijing landmark in 1989.

Li, who died of an unspecified illness at age 90 last week, was reviled by activists as the “Butcher of Beijing” for his role in the military’s brutal suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations on June 4, 1989.

But he was eulogised in state media following his death as a “tested and loyal communist soldier” who “took decisive measures to stop the turmoil” 30 years ago.

The Chinese national flag flies at half-mast in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on July 29, 2019, in memory of China’s former premier Li Peng, who died on July 22 at the age of 90. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP.

At Tiananmen on Monday, soldiers at the daily flag-raising ceremony raised the red banner to half-mast as hundreds of tourists looked on under rainy skies in the capital.

“He was a man of strong will,” said a man visiting from central Shaanxi province.

The Chinese national flag was also flown at half-mast in Hong Kong, where large gatherings are held every year in memory of the victims of the 1989 crackdown.

The former British colony has been rocked for two months by increasingly violent protests that have directly challenged Beijing’s authority over the global financial hub.

The official Xinhua news agency said Li’s body would be cremated in Beijing on Monday. The flag will also fly at half-mast at the imposing Great Hall of the People next to the square, as well as other government buildings, airports and Chinese embassies.

Banner in foreground: ‘If the old don’t step down, the young cannot step up; Deng Xiaoping should lead the way.’ Photo: HRIC archive, courtesy of Gail Butler, Libby Schmalz.

Li held the premiership for 11 years until 1998. He was chairman of China’s rubber-stamp parliament until 2003.

Though the decision to send in the troops was a collective one under paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, Li was widely held responsible for the bloody crackdown.

It trailed him to the end of his official political career in 2003.

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