THREE people were killed and many injured today, police said, when a car ploughed into pedestrians and caught fire in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the site of 1989 pro-democracy protests bloodily suppressed by the government.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, asked whether the government believed the incident was a terror attack, said she did not know the specifics of the case and declined further comment.
Police said on their official microblog that the car veered off the road at the north of the square, a major tourist attraction, crossed the barriers and caught fire.
The three people in the car died, they said. The official Xinhua news agency said 11 tourists and police officers were injured and had been taken to hospital.
Tiananmen Square is always under heavy security due to its proximity to the Zhongnanhai compound of the central leadership and due to the Great Hall of the People which overlooks the square. It is also the site of Mao's mausoleum.
But the square is still a magnet for protesters, especially around the June 4 anniversary of the crushing of the student-led demonstrations in 1989, though they are normally swiftly bundled away by police.
A Reuters witness said he saw fire engines, an ambulance and numerous police cars heading in the direction of the fire, which sent a plume of black smoke into the sky.
The main road through the square was briefly closed. Police also evacuated the main part of the square.
A foreign tourist who was on the square and asked not to be identified said she heard an explosion followed by a fire.