By Sui-Lee Wee and Maxim Duncan
BEIJING (Reuters) - A group of families demanding justice for the victims of China's 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown has denounced new President Xi Jinping for failing to launch political reforms, saying he was taking China "backwards towards Maoist orthodoxy".
The Tiananmen Mothers activist group has long urged the leadership to open a dialogue and provide a reassessment of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, bloodily suppressed on June 4 that year by the government which labeled it "counter-revolutionary".
In an open letter released on Friday through New York-based Human Rights in China, the group said Xi "has mixed together the things that were most unpopular and most in need of repudiation" during the time of former paramount leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, the latter who oversaw the suppression of the protests.
"This has caused those individuals who originally harbored hopes in him in carrying out political reform to fall into sudden disappointment and despair," the group said.
Xi became Communist Party chief in November and president in March at a time of growing public pressure to launch long-stalled political reforms.
Some intellectuals had predicted that Xi would follow in the footsteps of his father, Xi Zhongxun, a reformist former vice premier and parliament vice chairman. Xi has tried to project a softer and more open image than his predecessor, Hu Jintao.
But Xi's government has clamped down on free expression on the Internet and detained anti-corruption activists, giving no sign the party will ever brook dissent to its rule.
The Tiananmen Mothers said they had not seen Xi "reflect upon or show remorse in the slightest for the sins committed during the three decades of Maoist communism".
"What we see, precisely, are giant steps backwards towards Maoist orthodoxy," the group said.
The leader of the Tiananmen Mothers group, Ding Zilin, called on Xi to "be courageous enough to take up the responsibility of history and pay the debts left by his predecessors".
"Everyone knows that a just resolution to the June 4 issue, a re-evaluation of June 4, will not happen by itself. It needs to be tied to progress in China's political reform and democratization," Ding, 77, told Reuters this week.
Asked about the letter, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China had long ago "reached a clear conclusion" about June 4. The successes of the past two decades "shows that the path we have chosen serves the interest of the Chinese people", he added.
The government has already moved to limit the activities of dissidents ahead of the anniversary.
Wu Lihong, an environmental activist from central China and one of the letter's signatories, said he had been banned from travelling to the United States to receive an award.
"They don't want me bad-mouthing China to the Americans at this sensitive time of year," he said by telephone.
After initially tolerating the student-led demonstrations in the spring of 1989, the Communist Party sent troops to crush the protests on the night of June 3-4, killing hundreds.
The topic remains taboo in China and the leadership has rejected all calls to overturn its verdict.
A handful of people remain in prison, 24 years on, according to the Dui Hua Foundation, a U.S. group that works for the release of Chinese political prisoners.
While China grapples with thousands of protests a year, over everything from pollution to corruption and illegal land grabs, none of these demonstrations has even come close to becoming a national movement that could threaten the party's rule.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Terril Yue Jones; Editing by Robert Birsel)