Crowds returning to Tiananmen Square

BEIJING - One minute, he and his friend were strolling outside the Forbidden City. The next, he was lying on the ground, blood gushing out of his mouth.

It was only later in the hospital that the Japanese national realised he had survived a "terror attack" that struck the heart of Beijing last Monday.

"The car hit us from behind," said the 39-year-old, who declined to be named, as he spoke to The Sunday Times from his bed at Tongren Hospital last Thursday.

"There was blood all over my mouth and I realised my friend was not with me. We were taken to the hospital very quickly."

His Chinese friend suffered serious injuries and is in the intensive care unit. Both work in Shanghai and were in Beijing for a holiday.

They are two of the 40 people who were injured when a sport utility vehicle drove into the crowd near the entrance of the Forbidden City last Monday. The Chinese authorities have deemed the act a "planned terrorist attack", the first in Beijing's recent history.

Two tourists, including Filipino doctor Rizalina Bunyi, were killed. Three people in the SUV who had Uighur-sounding names died after setting the vehicle on fire.

Police said the incident near Tiananmen Square was the work of Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic minority from north-western Xinjiang region, which has seen violent clashes in the past few years.

Things are returning to normal at Beijing's most famous tourist attraction.

Couples, elderly folk and families with young children are back - happily taking photos at the square, which shows little sign of damage from the crash.

"What's there to worry about? The chances of something like that happening is very small," said office worker Cao Guisheng, 42, who was visiting from central Henan province.

Nearby roads and subway stations that had been closed off last Monday are open and operating as usual.

But police have stepped up checks at the square, setting up metal barricades and stations near the Heavenly Peace Gate, which is the front entrance to the Forbidden City and bears a giant portrait of Mao Zedong.

They were seen checking the identity cards of a few Uighur men last Thursday.

A few hawkers whom The Sunday Times spoke to admitted they still felt jittery. They declined to give their personal details as they had been told not to talk to reporters.

"My friends tell me, 'Mrs Lan, you're lucky you were not there'," a map seller who looks to be in her 60s said. She had taken Monday off to run an errand, she explained.

Another hawker, a woman in her 30s, said she called the ambulance when she saw the SUV knocking down seven or eight people on the pavement, including two girls, before crashing into the crowd in front of the Mao portrait.

"I saw shoes on the pavement and wondered if they belonged to my friends," she said, looking into the distance. She is so haunted by what she saw that she has not gone back to sell flags on the square, she added.

The size of the crowd at the square is the same as that before the attack, the hawkers told The Sunday Times.

But many of those injured and their family members remain shaken and are only just picking up the pieces.

Mr Rodrigo Jr Camia, the brother of the dead Filipino woman, told The Sunday Times he had flown to Beijing last Wednesday to help take her remains home.

The woman's husband, Dr Nelson Bunyi, and two daughters remain in hospital with multiple fractures and declined to be interviewed.

"We have not talked about the incident yet. All we want to do now is to complete the process and hopefully bring (my sister's body) home by the end of this week," Mr Rodrigo said.

A Philippine embassy official was helping the family with the paperwork.

The family of Ms Song Qingqing, a 24-year-old from Shanxi, was holding a vigil outside the intensive care unit at Tongren when The Sunday Times visited.

She and her parents had arrived in Beijing last Monday for a holiday. Her parents suffered light injuries and are at the nearby Peking Union Medical College Hospital.

"She's been in surgery for nine hours already. We thought Beijing as the capital would be a safe place. Who knew this would happen?" her husband said, adding that her injuries were mostly on the lower part of her body. They have a one-year-old child.

Ms Song's aunt said the police have provided them with hotel accommodation and basic meals, and that the issue of compensation has not been raised.

Some of the victims were not cowed by the unprecedented attack near the politically sensitive Tiananmen Square, site of the June 4, 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

The Japanese national, who had four teeth knocked out and needed 16 stitches for a gash under his bottom lip, said he would not be deterred from visiting Beijing again in the future.

He admitted he was surprised that such an attack took place, but dismissed it as probably a one-off incident.

"Terrorist attacks like this one happen sometimes, even in Japan," he said. "I hope to recuperate in Japan but once I recover I'll return to Shanghai to work again."

esthert@sph.com.sg
hoaili@sph.com.sg


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