Tiananmen Square was shut down on Monday after a sport utility vehicle drove over a sidewalk and into a crowd of tourists and other pedestrians. The vehicle maneuvered between two of the steel barricades that separate the street from the sidewalk, and traveled nearly 500 yards before crashing into a bridge, killing five and injuring 38. According to Chinese state news reports, the dead included the three occupants of the SUV and two pedestrians.
Some have speculated that the crash was a calculated attack resulting from political unrest. The Xinhua news service, China’s official press agency, said merely that investigations are underway. The state-run Global Times has reported that police have named two residents of the Xinjiang region in western China as possible suspects in the incident.
The crash took place near the entrance to the Forbidden City, which borders the north edge of Tiananmen Square. The SUV crashed into the Jinshui Bridge, which straddles the moat surrounding the Forbidden City, before bursting into flames. The bridge lies just below a large and somewhat iconic portrait of Mao Zedong, founder of the Communist Party.
Officials acted with lightning speed to evacuate the area, which has been heavily monitored since a pro-democracy protest ended in a violent military crackdown in 1989. Despite the fact that it’s one of the most heavily policed public spaces in the world, Tiananmen Square has been the site of several acts of political protest in the years since.
Following the crash, police erected large screens to block the view of the crash site while it was cleaned and investigated.
Initial news of the crash circulated on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site that is similar to Twitter. According to the BBC, some photos were quickly removed, presumably by censors within the Chinese state.
News crews from both the BBC and the AFP were detained by Chinese police while trying to report on the crash, and images were deleted from the cameras of two AFP reporters.
Image via Wikimedia Commons