Fiery Tiananmen Square car crash
Three people have died and almost a dozen tourists and policemen were injured when a four-wheel drive mounted the footpath and burst into flames at Beijing's famous landmark. Photo: weiboPT0M0S 620 349
Chinese police evacuated Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Monday after a car mounted a footpath, before running into crowds and bursting into flames, resulting in at least five deaths and dozens more injured.
Official news agency Xinhua said a vehicle had "crashed into railings" before bursting into flames shortly after noon on Monday (3pm AEDT), killing the driver and two passengers on board.
Authorities later updated the death toll to five, after two tourists – one Filipino and one Chinese national from Guangdong – succumbed to their injuries.
Chinese microblogging site Weibo showed photos such as this of a closed Tiananmen Square after the crash. Photo: Weibo
At least 38 others were injured including three other Filipinos and a Japanese tourist.
A DFAT spokesperson said no Australians were involved.
Police officers at the heavily patrolled square, the site of the 1989 pro-democracy protests, were also injured in the crash.
Social media immediately went into a frenzy as eyewitnesses posted photos of the incident, which occurred right outside the main gate where Mao Zedong’s portrait hangs.
Many on Chinese microblogging site Weibo posted photos of what appeared to be a four-wheel-drive billowing with smoke.
Authorities said they were still investigating the incident in the hours after the crash, as police formed a massive presence in central Beijing, while state agencies clamped down on discussion of the incident on the internet.
There was also no mention of the incident on the state broadcaster’s most-watched prime-time bulletin.
Numerous online posts from eyewitnesses who reported "explosions" and suggested the incident appeared to have been a deliberate act were swiftly removed by internet censors.
The heavy-handed response, usually reserved for politically-sensitive events, has led to much speculation that the incident may have been more than a straightforward accident.
Tiananmen Square is always under heavy security, and dissent or disorder is usually swiftly clamped down on, due to its proximity to the Zhongnanhai compound of the central leadership and the Great Hall of the People, where China's largely rubber-stamp parliament meets.
As the political heart of the capital, the square has also been the site of various protests since 1989, including a failed self-immolation by a farmer in 2009 and numerous demonstrations in the early 2000s by the Falun Gong.
By 1.30pm local time, authorities had surrounded the area with curtains and had cleared much of the damage from the scene.
By 4pm local time, the square was reopened to pedestrian access and subway lines had resumed normal operation, but at least three nearby hospitals were still treating those injured.