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They were called to coincide with a visit to the capital by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, by students seeking democratic reform.
Troops were used to clear the square despite repeated assurances from Chinese politicians that there would be no violence.
It has been suggested that the Communist leader Deng Xiaoping personally ordered their deployment as a way of shoring up his leadership.
Hundreds, and possibly thousands, of people were killed in the massacre, although it is unlikely a precise number will ever be known.