Three Set Themselves on Fire in Beijing, With Photos (Updated)

From the Guardian:

Three men set themselves on fire in the heart of the capital, Beijing, today, official media reported.

The men ignited a fire inside their car at 3pm on the busy junction of Wangfujing, a popular shopping street, and Chang’an Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare, which leads to Tiananmen Square.

The men’s condition is not known, the state news agency Xinhua reported, quoting a Beijing government spokesman.

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[Photo source: news.sina.com]

Update: Xinhua reports on the current status of the three people.

It said two of the three people, who were inside the car, were hospitalized for non-life-threatening injuries.

Xinhua has confirmed with two separate sources that there were two men and one woman in the vehicle at the time of the incident. One woman and one man were taken to the hospital.

The information office statement mentioned nothing about the third person.

An eyewitness who refused to be named told Xinhua two people in the car were taken away by an ambulance and the other one by police.

An unnamed source to Reuters news agency has said one of of three might have been a Uighur. Maureen Fan from the Washington Post reports on the fire:

A preliminary investigation of the high-profile protest showed the men had come to the capital to file grievances with the central government, police said, in a common tactic that local governments often try to squash. Unnamed sources told the Reuters news agency that at least one of the men might have come from the restive Uighur minority in China’s northwestern Xinjiang province. Xinjiang public security officials would not confirm the report, which comes as authorities step up security ahead of several sensitive political anniversaries this year.

At 2:50 p.m., a car with out of town plates pulled up to the southern end of the Wangfujing pedestrian street, a popular tourist spot, Beijing police said in a faxed statement. When police approached the suspicious-looking car, the interior suddenly burst into flames. Police put out the fire and sent two of the men to the hospital, where their injuries were said to not be life-threatening. A third man was taken away by ambulance, the New China News Agency said without elaborating.

Self-immolations in China have been used as political statements or last-resort protests by individuals upset that the government has not solved their complaints. In 2001, five people the government said were members of the banned Falun Gong sect set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square, the scene of a deadly crackdown on student protests 20 years ago this June. Falun Gong denies that people who set themselves on fire are true followers. Three years ago, a man protesting not being paid set himself on fire in the same square, which is about half a mile from Wednesday’s incident.

A Reuters report provides more details of the event:

A witness saw “some kind of incendiary device” explode when police wrenched open the door of a small silvery-grey car, with what looked like three Chinese flags attached to its roof.

The Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau said in a faxed statement that the passengers were in a car with non-Beijing plates and were stopped by police who thought the car looked odd. It did not describe the incident as self-immolation.

“When they were advancing to examine it, the inside of the car caught fire and it was swiftly extinguished,” said the statement. Two of the passengers were injured and sent to hospital, where they were not in critical danger.

“Based on initial inquiries, the three came to Beijing to voice personal grievances,” said the police statement.

February 25, 2009 8:00 AM
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Categories: Society