Nearly 200,000 pro-democracy demonstrators led by student marchers defied a ban on protests and swarmed past police and army lines into central Tiananmen Square Thursday in the biggest protest since the founding of Communist China.
Officials later agreed to student demands for a meeting. Amid bottle-throwing and shoving, a crowd led by at least 80,000 college students marching on the 11th day of pro-democracy demonstrations overwhelmed a human wall of more than 1,000 uniformed police standing 10-deep across the main avenue leading to the square.
The mass of people, estimated to number nearly 200,000 strong, then swarmed past a group of nearly 250 unarmed Peoples Liberation Army soldiers guarding the northwestern entrance to the sprawling plaza, climbing over army trucks and pouring into Tiananmen. The square is the site of nearly two weeks of student-led rallies by Chinese demanding greater political freedom.
In the first official mention of the march, the New China News Agency's English-language service issued an unusually prompt report headlined: "Some Beijing college students walk out of campus."
The success of the march was an extraordinary affront to Chinese leaders, who in the official media Wednesday called the democracy movement a "planned conspiracy" to overthrow communist rule and warned of severe punishments for activists.
The 10-hour daytime march, whose numbers surpasssed anti-government protests of the Cultural Revolution, was the biggest rally since the founding of Communist China 1949.
"People climbing trees, the headbands, the crackling in the air _ it feels just like the Philippines when Marcos fell," said a Western tourist who watched the march.
Linking arms, shouting slogans in support of China's state constitution and calling for freedom of speech, the protesters won applause from crowds of workers and bystanders, many of whom joined in the march or followed out of curiosity.
During their march through the city, the students walked 10 abreast in a stream that stretched for more than 2 miles.
Some on lookers passed ice creams and cigarettes to the marchers, who turned roads in the west of the city into a mass of red and white, the colors of their college flags and banners inscribed with political slogans.
The surrender of the police and People's Liberation Army troops on the 11th day of student protests was virtually unconditional.
By late afternoon, the green uniforms of security forces virtually vanished from the streets, except for a cordon of soldiers who pulled back and ringed the Great Hall of the People, headquarters of China's parliament.
The government announced during the Central Chinese Television evening news that the Communist Party and central government agreed to student demands for a meeting.
Since the protests erupted April 17, students have pressed three demands: direct talks with Chinese leaders, a public apology from Public Security Minister Wang Fang for police beatings of students during protests last week, and an apology from the head of the official Xinhua News Agency for "misreporting" on the student movement.