BEIJING: Five people including a Philippine tourist were killed and 38 were injured after a vehicle ploughed into crowds in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Monday and caught fire, police said.
The blaze sent clouds of smoke billowing into the air near a giant portrait of Mao Zedong that hangs at one end of the square, the site of pro-democracy protests in 1989 which were brutally crushed by the authorities.
Witnesses and reports said the SUV vehicle drove along the pavement outside the Forbidden City, the former imperial palace, before crashing—prompting speculation the incident was intentional.
Immediately afterwards, a security operation swung into force on the vast plaza, the symbolic center of the Chinese state.
“I saw a car turn a bend and suddenly it was driving on the pavement. It happened fast but looked like it knocked people over,” one eyewitness, who did not want to be named, told Agence France-Presse.
“I heard an explosion and saw fire. The scene was very frightening,” he added. “There were paramilitary police who told people to get back into their cars and stop taking pictures.”
Images posted on Chinese social media sites showed the blazing shell of the SUV and a plume of black smoke rising near a portrait of communist China’s founder that hangs on the Forbidden City’s towering wall, while crowds looked on.
“The incident led to five deaths and 38 injuries,” Beijing police said on their verified account on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
The driver of the vehicle and two passengers were killed, along with two tourists, one a woman from the Philippines and the other a man from Guangdong province in southern China, they said.
Three Philippine tourists and one Japanese were among the injured, police added, saying the vehicle had crashed into the guardrail on Jinshui Bridge, which crosses the moat around the Forbidden City, and then caught fire.