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A fire broke out on Tiananmen Square on Monday, prompting an evacuation and closure of the tourist attraction–and Chinese people were saying that it was a “self-immolation incident.”
The sensitive area is often under heavy guard.
Xinhua, a state-run media outlet, said via Twitter that a motor vehicle “went into the crowd.” It later reported that five people died, and 38 others, including police officers and tourists, were injured.
The jeep burst into fire at about 12:05 p.m. after crashing into a guardrail of Jinshui Bridge, across the moat of the Forbidden City.
The five dead include the three people in the jeep, in addition to a female tourist from the Philippines, and a male tourist from Guangdong Province.
The injured include three tourists from the Philippines and a male tourist from Japan.
Reports on Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like social media service, indicated that people believed that there was a self-immolation (that someone or more than one person set themselves on fire). Many of the photos posted online were deleted, as is often the case in the heavily censored country, but many were preserved on Twitter.
“Craziest thing ever. Just walked inside TianAnMen square and a car explodes outside the square,” said Grace Ng, who is based in New York but is currently in Beijing, via Twitter.
The fire was put out after about an hour, and traffic returned to normal soon thereafter.
The incident was also the cause for some Western media outlets to make mistakenreferences to an event in 2001, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center. On Jan. 23 of 2001, five people appeared to stage a self-immolation on Tiananmen Square, and the Communist Party’s propaganda outlets quickly claimed them to be practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that is persecuted in China.
“Over the past decade, credible sources and analysis have demonstrated the alleged self-immolation event on January 23, 2001 was staged by the Chinese regime as a horrific propaganda ploy to turn public opinion against Falun Gong,” the Falun Dafa Information Center said in a press release. This gave the authorities “a free hand to intensify the repression and torture of Falun Gong practitioners,” it said.
It’s often difficult to get the full story of situations such as these in China because media outlets are restricted in what they can report.