Groups: Tibetan sets self on fire, unrest follows

AP News
Posted: Jan 14, 2012 9:19 AM
Groups: Tibetan sets self on fire, unrest follows

Another Tibetan in southwest China self-immolated Saturday in the latest in a series of apparent protests against Chinese rule, activist groups said.

The self-immolation in the town of Aba in Sichuan province was followed by clashes between security forces and local Tibetans, said the London-based group Free Tibet.

At least 16 Buddhist monks, nuns and other Tibetans are now believed to have set themselves on fire in the past year _ including four in the past week _ mostly in traditionally Tibetan areas of Sichuan province. Most have chanted for Tibetan freedom and the return of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

Little was known about the person who self-immolated Saturday, although the London-based International Campaign for Tibet cited its sources as saying the person was a man and that he was not a monk.

Kate Saunders of the ICT said locals began to protest after seeing police beat the man severely as they put out the flames. "Tibetans at the scene became very distressed and angry and gathered together in what seems to be an impromptu demonstration," Saunders wrote in an email.

Both groups said a woman was shot during the unrest.

Woeser, a Beijing-based Tibetan poet and activist, posted accounts of the unrest on her Twitter feed that were similar to the ones reported by the groups.

"A young Tibetan person self-immolated ... the local area has erupted in public protests and marches, and they have been met with military police fire and suppression. There are Tibetan casualties," she wrote. Like some Tibetans, Woeser goes by just one name.

The claims could not be independently confirmed. Calls to Aba county's police bureau rang unanswered Saturday evening.

Heavy security has turned Aba and the surrounding area into a virtual restricted zone since an anti-government uprising there and across Tibetan communities in 2008, and foreign reporters have had little or no access.

China chooses Buddhist leaders in Tibet and wants to pick a pro-Beijing successor to the Dalai Lama, whom China considers to be a separatist. China says Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for most of that time.

Chinese authorities routinely deny Tibetan claims of repression, although they have confirmed some self-immolations and accused supporters of the Dalai Lama of encouraging such acts. The Dalai Lama and representatives of the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile in India say they oppose all violence.