BEIJING - Police in Beijing are seeking eight suspects from China's restive Xinjiang region after a fatal car crash in Tiananmen Square, hotel staff said Wednesday, as a minority rights group expressed fears of a crackdown.
A police notice issued to hotels in the capital named eight suspects who appeared mostly to be from China's mainly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority, sought in connection with a "major incident" in Beijing on Monday, staff at two hotels told AFP.
"If you see these people, immediately contact your superior," it said.
The notice suggested that police have widened the hunt for suspects launched after Monday's crash.
Five people were killed and dozens injured after a sport utility vehicle drove along a stretch of pavement, knocking over pedestrians before bursting into flames, in what appeared to be a deliberate act.
State-run media previously said that police were looking for two men from Xinjiang in China's far west, which is home to the majority of China's Uighur population.
The new police notice, issued on Tuesday, did not state the suspects' ethnic backgrounds, but seven of their names were among those commonly used by Uighurs.
It included the two men from the earlier notification, one of them from Lukqun, where state media said 35 people were killed in June in what Beijing called a "terrorist attack".
The last suspect's name appeared to be from China's Han ethnic majority. He was born in 1992 and lived in "police family apartments" in Xinjiang, the notice read out by hotel staff said. The oldest suspect was listed as born in 1943.
Beijing police could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, and Chinese media have released few reports about the attack, while eyewitness accounts posted online were quickly censored. Searches for "Tiananmen incident" and "Tiananmen explosion" were blocked Wednesday on Sina Weibo, China's most popular Twitter-like microblogging service.
Beijing has blamed Uighur groups for what it calls "terrorist" attacks in Xinjiang but details of alleged incidents are hard to confirm, and exile groups accuse Beijing of exaggerating the threat to justify religious and cultural restrictions.
It has not referred to the Monday crash as terrorism, and foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday: "Maybe we should have some patience and wait for the result of the investigation."
Beijing police have said that those killed included a female tourist from the Philippines, while three Philippine tourists and one Japanese were among the injured.
"All patients involved in the incident are recovering," a nurse who declined to be named told AFP at Beijing's Tongren hospital, where Philippine officials said the injured were being treated.
No Uighur group has claimed responsibility for Monday's crash, which struck at the symbolic centre of the Chinese state.
A statement from the World Uyghur Congress, an exile group which Beijing has condemned as separatist, said suspicions that Uighurs were responsible could lead to stepped-up government repression.
"Today, I fear for the future of East Turkestan and the Uighur people more than I ever have," World Uyghur Congress president Rebiya Kadeer said in a statement issued from Washington.
East Turkestan is the name which the activist organisation uses to refer to Xinjiang, where Uighurs make up 46 per cent of the population.
The group added that it fears the response by authorities in Beijing will "lead to further demonisation of the Uighur people and incite a fierce state crackdown" in Xinjiang.
"The Chinese government will not hesitate to concoct a version of the incident in Beijing, so as to further impose repressive measures on the Uighur people," Kadeer said.
Xinjiang is a sparsely populated but strategically important area which borders several central Asian countries. It is periodically hit by violent clashes, including riots in the region's capital Urumqi in 2009 which left around 200 dead, but information is often hard to obtain.
Police have arrested at least 139 people in Xinjiang in recent months for allegedly spreading jihad, according to state-run media.
In August state-run media said that a policeman had been killed in an "anti-terrorism" operation - although overseas reports said 22 Uighurs died in the incident.