Tibetans set themselves ablaze in Lhasa

By Drum Digital
28 May 2012

Two Tibetan men have set themselves on fire outside a temple in Lhasa and one has died, reports said Monday, as a wave of self-immolations in China's Tibetan areas spread to the heavily guarded city.

Sunday's incident marked the first time such protests have taken place in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, which has been under tight security since deadly anti-Chinese government riots broke out there in 2008.

US-based broadcaster Radio Free Asia said the men were monks who joined a protest against Chinese rule outside the Jokhang temple, a renowned centre for Buddhist pilgrimage in the centre of Lhasa, before setting fire to themselves.

China's official Xinhua news agency said police put the flames out "in minutes" and that one of the men, named Dargye, survived and was in a stable condition.

Xinhua, which did not identify the men as monks, said Dargye was from Aba county in southwest China's Sichuan province, where many of the recent self-immolations have taken place.

Aba is home to the Kirti monastery, which has been under virtual lockdown since a young monk named Phuntsog set light to himself and died in March 2011, sparking mass protests there.

Xinhua named the dead man as Tobgye Tseten, from Gansu province, which borders Sichuan and also has a large population of ethnic Tibetans.

Radio Free Asia quoted a source as saying the situation in Lhasa was now "very tense" and the city was filled with police and paramilitary forces.

One Lhasa resident contacted by AFP on Monday also reported an increased police presence in the city, adding officers were carrying out identity checks in the street and the mobile signal was blocked.

Security authorities in Lhasa contacted by telephone refused to comment on the incident, which took place as Tibetan Buddhists celebrated Saga Dawa -- the anniversary of Buddha's birth.

But a senior Tibet official quoted by Xinhua condemned Sunday's protests.

"They were a continuation of the self-immolations in other Tibetan areas and these acts were all aimed at separating Tibet from China," said Hao Peng, the Communist party secretary in charge of political and legal affairs in the region.

More than 30 people have set themselves on fire in China's Tibetan-inhabited areas since the start of March 2011 in protest at what they say is religious and cultural repression by the Chinese authorities.

The only previously reported case in the Tibetan Autonomous Region itself was in December, when a former Buddhist monk set himself alight in Changu prefecture shouting anti-Chinese slogans.

He was taken to hospital and later died of his injuries.

Robbie Barnett, a Tibet expert at Columbia University in New York, said Sunday's incident marked the first significant protest in Lhasa since riots broke out there in 2008, before spreading to other Tibetan areas.

"This is the first incident of any significance in four years. It's a big setback for the authorities," he told AFP by telephone.

"These self-immolations are very troubling for the Chinese because it is a new method of protest that is very hard to prevent."

Tibetans have long chafed under China's rule over the vast Tibetan plateau, accusing Beijing of curbing religious freedoms and eroding their culture and language.

The tensions have intensified over the past year, but Beijing insists that Tibetans enjoy religious freedom and have benefited from improved living standards brought on by China's economic expansion.

Beijing has accused overseas organisations of seeking independence for Tibet and blamed the Dalai Lama -- Tibet's exiled spiritual leader -- for the unrest, including a series of protests against Chinese rule earlier this year.

At least two people were killed in January in clashes between police and locals in Sichuan, and in February, security forces reportedly shot dead two Tibetan brothers who went on the run after protesting against Chinese rule.

Internet searches for the Chinese name of the temple where Sunday's protests occurred, Dazhaosi, were blocked in China on Monday.

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