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Soldiers stormed Tiananmen Square yesterday and crushed a three-week student sit-in for democracy, shooting and beating demonstrators in clashes. A doctor estimated at least 500 people were killed.
The State-run radio put the death toll in the thousands and denounced the Government for the violence.
However, the station later changed announcers and broadcast another report supporting the governing Communist Party.
After forcing thousands of students out of Tiananmen Square, about 100 troopers fired automatic rifles at groups of people on the main street leading to the square at 10.30am (1.30pm New Zealand time), leaving 30 bodies in the road.
One witness saw the troops fire at the backs of people.
Seven students were killed during the retreat from the square when they were crushed by an armoured personnel carrier. The vehicle was following them to quicken the pace of the march. State-run Beijing Radio said "thousands of people," mainly civilians, were killed, including personnel at the station. In a highly unusual English-language report monitored in Washington, an announcer said: "When the army convoys tried to break through, the soldiers continued to spray their bullets indiscriminately at crowds in the streets."
The report, quoting witnesses, said some armoured vehicles ran over foot soldiers who hesitated to march on the civilians.
The station later switched announcers and broadcast a news report supporting the Government and suggesting the initial report may have been made by a maverick at the station. The Government news media has in recent weeks been tightly controlled, but few reports critical of party leaders have leaked out.
A doctor at Beijing Youdian Hospital estimated at least 500 people died. He based the conclusion on reports from 10 other hospitals.
Thirty people, including a man over 60 years and a 7-year-old, were dead at Beijing Youdian, the doctor said. Most victims died of gunshot wounds to the head and thigh, and many more deaths were expected because operations could not be performed fast enough.
"This is vicious behaviour," the doctor said.
"My Government has gone insane."
The US television network CBS said eight hospitals reported 150 dead and 325 wounded.
Government-run television said more than 1000 soldiers were injured.
"There are people who have been shot in the head, chest, stomach, legs and eyes," said a nurse at Beijing Union Medical College near the square, which reported 24 dead and hundreds injured. Mattresses lined thehallways to accommodate the overflow.
After troops surrounded the huge square, about 2000 gathered at a monument to revolutionary heroes and prepared for a last stand, But they voted about 5am (8am New Zealand time) to leave.
"There is no more time. We can't let any more blood flow," a student announced over a loudspeaker. "We must leave."
They sang the Internationale, the socialist anthem, as they left the square, some definitely raising a V-for-victory sign. They marched past the troops who moved in to take over the square.
"I love you, I love you all," wept an elderly woman as the students walked by. At least eight tanks rumbled on to the square and hundreds of soldiers, their rifles raised, moved on to the monument.