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Beijing confirms Tiananmen Square 'emergency'

BEIJING -- Chinese police dealt with an “emergency” near Beijing's Tiananmen Square during a top government meeting last week, state media reported Monday, after onlookers said they saw smoke in the area.

The “emergency” occurred during the opening of China's Communist-controlled National People's Congress on Wednesday, the state-run People's Public Security News said in a report carried on a central government website.

The report gave few details but said that the incident occurred in the “Tiananmen area” at 10.45am, as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was giving his “work report” on government activities in the Great Hall of the People, which flanks Tiananmen Square.

Two people claiming to have been at the scene around the time last week told AFP that they saw a plume of smoke at the north of the square, and cited onlookers as saying that a middle-aged woman had attempted to set herself on ablaze. Pictures posted online showed smoke but no fire.

Later that day China's vice-minister of public security presented the two police with awards for dealing with the incident, the report said, without giving any further details.

Tiananmen Square is the symbolic heart of the Chinese state and always subject to strict control, with many security personnel equipped with fire extinguishers.

A car drove into crowds of tourists on the square in October, killing two, with the three people inside dying after the vehicle burst into flames, police said. Beijing described the crash as a planned act of terrorism involving suspects from the ethnically divided western region of Xinjiang.

There have been more than 120 attempted self-immolation incidents by Tibetans protesting against Chinese rule since 2009, most of them fatal.

Chinese people resisting forced demolitions of their houses have occasionally resorted to setting themselves on fire.

Beijing usually sees a spike in Chinese citizens with grievances against the authorities trying to travel to the capital to lodge formal complaints during the annual Congress meeting.

Such people, known as “petitioners,” are frequently detained by police. In the last year petitioners have been blamed for several small bombing incidents, including one in Beijing's international airport.

Beijing police did not respond to phoned and faxed requests for comment on the incident when contacted by AFP.

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