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This Month in History Around the World - JUNE

by Sally Sumner

10 June - The Eruption of Mt Tarawera

Just to the south-east of Rotorua, Mount Tarawera could be described as an unusual looking mountain, with several large domes and a broad, flat top. It was shaped by volcanic activity hundreds of years ago. The Māori inhabitants of the area, and the Europeans who arrived in the 19th century, did not know that Tarawera was an active volcano until 1886, when it came to life in the deadliest known eruption in the country’s history.

On 10 June 1886, the Tarawera eruption began at 1.30am and lasted about 5 hours. Witnesses described earthquakes, lightning storms and fireballs, strong winds, suffocating gases, ash fall and darkness during daylight hours as the ash cloud passed overhead.

A 17 km long rift was blasted across the top of the mountain, through Lake Rotomahana and into the Waimangu Valley area. A mixture of steam and finely fragmented rock known as the ‘Rotomahana Mud’ spread over a wide area and was heavy enough to collapse nearby buildings.

The landscape was changed forever. Before the eruption, visitors from around the world flocked to the shores of the lake see the famed Pink and White Terraces - once named the ‘8th wonder of the world’. The eruption destroyed them, and more than 100 people were killed in villages near the mountain.

Eleven days before Mt Tarawera erupted a number of people reported seeing a ghostly, fully-laden waka (canoe) being paddled across Lake Tarawera, in the shadow of the mountain. The sighting was widely discussed and received much attention from artists and writers after the eruption, but has never been satisfactorily explained.

5 June 1832: Angry Parisians Man the Barricades

Paris, 1832. In the Tuileries garden, the young writer Victor Hugo was strolling by the river when he heard gunshots: trouble was brewing in the working-class district of Les Halles. Hugo went to investigate. For 15 minutes he hid behind a pillar and watched as the king’s soldiers fired on republican rebels. After some time, the battle moved away, giving Hugo the chance to make his escape. It was a moment that stayed with him for the rest of his life. Some 13 years later, he began work on a novel set in Paris during those tumultuous June days: Les Misérables.

Today, thanks to the success of the musical and film versions, Les Misérables is by far Hugo’s best-known work. Many people assume that it is set during the French Revolution. In fact, the insurrection at its heart was a two-day uprising against the Orleanist king Louis-Philippe, which ended in failure.

The June Rebellion was triggered by the food shortages of the late 1820s, a devastating cholera epidemic and the death of the popular general Jean Lamarque, who had become a hero to the working classes of Paris. At his funeral on 5 June, republican demonstrators rallied the crowds, waving red flags and calling for “liberty or death”. The mood turned ugly, and by the evening rioters had taken control of much of central and eastern Paris, throwing up the barricades that play such a key role in Hugo’s novel. It was all for nothing. The army stayed loyal to Louis-Philippe, and by morning the uprising had lost momentum. At the Cloître Saint-Merri, the last demonstrators were surrounded by the king’s troops. By nightfall it was all over.

June 4th 1989 Tiananmen Square protests ended when Chinese Troops kill hundreds.

In the 1980s, China was undergoing a process of huge change. The ruling Communist Party had begun to allow some private companies and foreign investment. Their leader, Deng Xiaoping hoped to boost the economy and raise living standards. However, the move brought with it corruption, while at the same time raising hopes for greater political openness. The Communist Party was divided between those urging more rapid change and hardliners wanting to maintain strict state control. In the mid-1980s, student-led protests started. Those taking part included people who had lived abroad and been exposed to new ideas and higher standards of living. In the Spring of 1989 the protests grew and on the day of the funeral of Hu Yaobang, a leading politician who had been instrumental in some of the economic and political changes, tens of thousands gathered in Tiananmen Square demanding greater freedom of speech and less censorship.

Tiananmen Square is an open square in the centre of Beijing, China, one of the largest public squares in the world. Originally designed and built in 1651, it is a significant location for gatherings and shows of Chinese Power and over the years has seen a number of protests. It was enlarged to four times its original size and now covers an area of 100 acres (40.5 hectares), with each flagstone numbered for ease in assembly of parades. The square derives its name from the massive stone Tiananmen (“Gate of Heavenly Peace”; first constructed in 1417)—once the main gate to the Forbidden City—situated at its northern end.

The initial government response was to issue stern warnings but take no action against the mounting crowds in the square. Similar demonstrations rose up in a number of other Chinese cities. However, the principal outside media coverage was in Beijing, in part because a large number of Western journalists had gathered there to report on the visit to China by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in mid-May. Shortly after his arrival, the demonstration in Tiananmen Square had swollen in number to some one million participants and was widely broadcast overseas.

Differing fractions within the Chinese Government could not agree on a way forward to deal with the protests. Moderates, such as Zhao Ziyang (Hu Yaobang’s successor as party general secretary), advocated negotiating with the demonstrators and offering concessions. Whereas hardliners such as Chinese premier Li Peng was supported by paramount elder statesman Deng Xiaoping into pursuing a line of forcibly suppressing the protesters due to a fear of anarchy. Marshall Law was declared in China in the last two weeks of May and troops stationed around the city tried to forcibly make their way to Tiananmen Square. They were thwarted by the throngs of locals who came out in support of the protest and the Western media who were broadcasting live.

By the beginning of June, the government was ready to act again. On the night of June 3–4, tanks and heavily armed troops advanced toward Tiananmen Square, opening fire on or crushing those who again tried to block their way. Once the soldiers reached the square, a number of the few thousand remaining demonstrators there chose to leave rather than face a continuation of the confrontation. The area was cleared by morning leaving behind conflicting reports of the number of causalities and ongoing arrests throughout the country for those believed to be involved. The Government’s official count was 241 including soldiers with over 4000 wounded, but many believe the death toll to be much higher. In 2017 a secret diplomatic cable came to light from the then British ambassador to China, Sir Alan Donald stating that his source, a friend of a member of China’s State Council believed over 10,000 had died.

Whatever the figure the massacre at Tiananmen Square the events are arguably one of the most defining in recent history. A brutal example, somewhat foreign to many of us who are used to a more democratic process but illustrating the lengths that a Government will go to in order to suppress undesired resistance from its people.

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elocal Digital Edition – June 2022 (#254)

elocal Digital Edition
June 2022 (#254)

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