Five people have been killed and 38 others injured after a Jeep crashed into a crowd in China’s Tiananmen Square.
It was not clear what caused the vehicle to veer off the road at the north end of the square in Beijing. It then hit a barrier at the entrance to the Forbidden City and burst into flames.
A female holidaymaker from the Philippines and a male tourist from China’s southern Guangdong province were killed along with the driver and two passengers in the vehicle, police said.
Of the 38 injured, three were tourists from the Philippines and one from Japan, they added.
The square, which was the site of pro-democracy protests in 1989 that were brutally crushed by the authorities, was evacuated immediately after the crash.
Streets leading to the area were blocked off, with screens erected to stop people photographing the scene.
Two AFP journalists were detained close to the site when they went to report on the story.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying declined to say whether the government believed it was a terror attack. She said she did not know the specifics of the case, and refused to comment further.
Sky’s China Correspondent Mark Stone said local reports described it as an “accident”, but he said many people would find that hard to believe given the politically-sensitive location.
“The location of the incident couldn’t be more significant. It’s right underneath the portrait of Chairman Mao on the Tiananmen Gate at the entrance to the Forbidden City. It is the most symbolic location in China,” he said.
“There are three likely scenarios. One: this was a car crash which, by astonishing coincidence, took place at the most politically-sensitive place in China.
“Or it was a form of protest; possibly a political protest against the communist leadership.
“The most probable scenario, however, is that this was an extreme form of petitioning: a family with a gripe, passed over by local authorities, take things to the extreme.
“We saw this with the airport bomber – a man who blew himself up at Beijing airport earlier this year to complain about police brutality in his province.”
Two hours after the incident, Sky News drove through the square to film the aftermath.
“With the exception of a wet patch on the road, the whole area had been cleared up,” Stone said.
“But in an indication of how sensitive the incident is, the Sky News vehicle was stopped by the authorities. They questioned the Sky team for 20 minutes and forced them to delete the video footage.”
News of the incident first emerged on Chinese social media sites, with pictures showing the flaming wreck surrounded by police and emergency vehicles.
Chinese bloggers are speculating that the crash must have been intentional.
“Is this the 2013 Tiananmen self-immolation incident?” asked one poster. “There’s still a person inside the car!”
Around 120 people have set themselves alight since February 2009 in Tibet and adjoining regions of China in protest at Chinese “oppression”.
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