BEIJING — Authorities cleared Tiananmen Square in central Beijing Monday lunchtime, after a jeep crashed into the crowd beside Tiananmen Gate and exploded, killing the driver and two passengers, and injuring 11 tourists and police officers, said the Beijing police on their micro-blog.
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, beyond the barriers that keep cars away from the Gate, 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. Fire extinguishers are positioned in several areas to stop attempts at self-immolation.