BEIJING - A jeep plowed through dozens of pedestrians and policemen beside Beijing's Tiananmen Square Monday lunchtime, before crashing in front of Tiananmen Gate and bursting into flame.
Five people are believed dead - the driver and two passengers, plus two tourists, including a female from the Philippines - and 38 people were injured, reported Qianlong.com, a Beijing government news website. Authorities cleared Tiananmen Square in central Beijing after the crash.
The vehicle caught fire, killing the driver, two passenger, a female tourist from the Phillipines and and a male tourist from South China's Guangdong province, the webiste said.
An official investigation is underway, reported Xinhua, the state news agency. The unusual nature of the incident, and the way the jeep had been driven some distance along the sidewalk, injuring and scattering pedestrians, quickly led to speculation online that the vehicle was used in a deliberate attack.
Photos posted online showed the vehicle ablaze beside the historic bridges that lead visitors under the famous portrait of Chairman Mao and into the Forbidden City, the former residence of China's Emperors.
Tiananmen is not only a big tourist draw but also the political heart of China, and therefore one of the most sensitive areas in the country. Leaders of the ruling Communist Party live and work nearby. Major party and government events take place at the adjacent Great Hall of the People, where a national women's congress was underway Monday.
Most famous abroad for the 1989 democracy protests, put down by force from June 4, the Square still draws occasional and isolated protests which are quickly snuffed out by uniformed and plain-clothes security officers who patrol the square and its environs.
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