|(Tiananmen crash – Update1) Witness saw SUV crashing and exploding, tourists among 11 injured
A witness watched in horror when a sports utility vehicle crashed and exploded in the heavily protected Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Three people were killed and 11 injured in the incident today.
“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 AFP.
“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.''
Immediately after the incident a security operation went into effect on the vast square next to the Forbidden City, where pro-democracy protests in 1989 were brutally crushed by the authorities.
Images posted on Chinese social media sites showed the blazing shell of the SUV and black smoke.
Several pictures posted online were deleted within minutes, streets leading to the square were blocked off and screens were erected.
Two AFP reporters were temporarily detained close to the site, with images deleted from their digital equipment.
“A jeep crashed into the guardrail on Jinshui Bridge, then caught fire,'' Beijing police said on their verified social media account. The Jinshui Bridge passes over the moat around the Forbidden City.
“It is confirmed that the jeep driver and the two other people in the car are dead,'' the statement said, adding the fire had been put out.
Xinhua said 11 people – tourists and police officers – were injured and had been taken to nearby hospitals.
One 58-year-old Italian tourist said he was touring the Forbidden City when officers came in around noon and ushered everybody out.
Tiananmen Square is the symbolic center of the state and is tightly guarded.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she did not know “he specifics'' when asked whether there was any evidence of a terrorist attack, or any foreign casualties.
News of the incident first trickled online Monday afternoon in reports from Chinese social media users at the scene.
Pictures they posted showed the flaming wreck surrounded by several police and emergency vehicles, directly in front of the sign on the Tiananmen gate reading: “ay the great unity of the world's people last for 10,000 years.''
Soon afterwards police erected high curtain-like barricades directly in front of the Mao portrait, blocking passers-by from viewing the scene.
Police blocked people from entering the square.
The main road in front of the Forbidden City was later re-opened to vehicles but pedestrians were not allowed near the scene of the incident.
Tiananmen Square is surrounded by several key buildings and institutions, with Mao's mausoleum on the south side, the Great Hall of the People to the west, and China's national museum to the east.