BEIJING (Reuters) - Five people were killed and dozens injured on Monday, the government said, when a car ploughed into pedestrians and caught fire in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the site of 1989 pro-democracy protests bloodily suppressed by the military.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, asked whether the government believed the incident was a terror attack, said she did not know the specifics of the case and declined further comment.
Police said on their official microblog that the car veered off the road at the north of the square, a major tourist attraction, crossed the barriers and caught fire.
The three people in the car died, they said.
The Beijing city government said on one of its official news websites that a female tourist from the Philippines and a male tourist from southern Guangdong province had also died.
Of the 38 injured, three were tourists from the Philippines and one from Japan, it added.
The central and Beijing governments held a meeting after the incident to speedily investigate what happened and “ensure the security and stability of the capital”, it said.
The car crashed almost directly in front of the main entrance of the Forbidden City, where there hangs a huge portrait of the founder of Communist China, Mao Zedong.
Tiananmen Square is always under heavy security due to its proximity to the Zhongnanhai compound of the central leadership and due to the Great Hall of the People which overlooks the square. It is also the site of Mao’s mausoleum.
But the square is still a magnet for protesters, especially around the June 4 anniversary of the crushing of the student-led demonstrations in 1989, though they are normally swiftly bundled away by police.
A Reuters witness said he saw fire engines, an ambulance and numerous police cars heading in the direction of the fire, which sent a plume of black smoke into the sky.
The main road through the square was briefly closed. Police also evacuated the main part of the square.
A foreign tourist who was on the square and asked not to be identified said she heard an explosion followed by a fire.
Reporting by Maxim Duncan, Megha Rajagopalan and Michael Martina; Writing by Ben Blanchard