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Falun Gong members set selves on fire; 1 dies
BEIJING, China -- One person is dead and four are injured after five followers of the banned Falun Gong meditation group lit themselves on fire Tuesday afternoon in Tiananmen Square, according to a police report issued to a CNN crew that witnessed the event.
A CNN producer and cameraman saw a person sit down on a pavement, pour gasoline on his clothes and set himself on fire. Flames shot high into the air against a backdrop of a gray Chinese New Year's Eve afternoon with piles of snow packed onto the square.
Police ran to the flames and extinguished them within minutes, as security personnel rushed to the area near Peoples' Heroes Monument at the square's center.
As military police apprehended the crew and physically restrained them, the crew witnessed four more people immolating themselves. They raised their hands above their heads and staggered slowly about, flames tearing through their clothing.
The crew witnessed one of the victims being driven away in a police van. He appeared to have serious burns on his face, and CNN producer Lisa Weaver could smell burning flesh as the van slowly passed. Four other bodies lay on the pavement after authorities put out the flames. Shortly afterward, portable screens were erected in two spots to shield the bodies from view.
One badly burned victim lay on the ground waving his or her hands as police looked on, offering no help. About 25 minutes after the incident two ambulances arrived and took the victims away. One appeared to be a woman, and was left on the pavement the longest -- possibly indicating that she was dead.
Police issued the CNN crew a statement after their detention on Tiananmen Square confirming that one person had died and four were injured. Police said another person had been detained on the scene with two flasks of gasoline.
According to the statement, the Falun Gong followers had burned themselves under the direction of Li Hongzhi, leader of the "evil cult."
Li Hongzhi is presently living in exile in New York.
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