Two Tibetans set themselves on fire near an important TibetanBuddhist monastery at the heart of Lhasa on Sunday, in the firstself-immolation protests reported in the capital city of the TibetAutonomous Region (TAR). Tobgye Tseten, a monk from Xiahe, a Tibetan county in southwesternGansu province, died after he burned himself in front of manyworshippers who had gathered at the Jokhang Temple to mark SakaDawa, an auspicious month for Buddhists, State media reported onMonday. Dargye, another monk from Aba county in southwestern Sichuan, wheremore than half of the self-immolation protests reported in the pastyear have taken place, survived after his self-immolation attemptand was taken to a hospital. He is in a stable condition. Therewere more than 30 self-immolation protests last year. |
The two Tibetans attempted the immolations at 2.16 p.m. on Sundayafternoon on Pargor Street in a busy Lhasa area near the Jokhangtemple, according to a statement from the publicity department ofthe Communist Party of China's Tibet regional committee. Thestatement, reported by the official Xinhua news agency, said policeon patrol put out the flames in two minutes and took the men to ahospital. The Chinese government has boosted deployment of police personnelin Lhasa in recent months in the wake of a string ofself-immolations reported in Tibetan areas of neighbouring Qinghai,Gansu and Sichuan provinces.
Residents of Lhasa told The Hindu in recent interviews that security measures put in place inFebruary and March, ahead of the Tibetan new year and theanniversary of the March 14, 2008 riots, were"unprecedented", with a ring of checkpoints operatingaround the city and turning away many Tibetans who did not holdLhasa residence permits. Part of the reason for the security arrangements was to prevent thespread of self-immolation protests into TAR, with more than 30incidents reported over the past year in Tibetan areas in theprovinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai. Before Sunday's incidents, only one self-immolation had beenreported to have taken place in the TAR, in Qamdo county last year.Chinese officials have often pointed out that the immolations hadlargely been restricted to a few monasteries in Tibetan areas inSichuan and Qinghai, where they blamed the influence of exiledmonks – a reflection, they argued, of stability within TAR. The spread of the protest to Lhasa, the most important religiouscentre for Tibetans and the administrative and political capital ofthe TAR, brought condemnations from Chinese officials who labelledthe acts as "separatist attempts". "They were a continuation of the self-immolations in otherTibetan areas and these acts were all aimed at separating Tibetfrom China," Hao Peng, secretary of the Commission forPolitical and Legal Affairs of the CPC Tibet Committee, was quotedas saying by Xinhua.
Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the Standing Committee of thePeople's Congress of TAR, alleged that the protests had beencarefully planned. Most of the protests had been carried out bylamas, nuns or former members of the clergy, Xinhua quoted him assaying, adding that "investigators found in many cases photosof the designated self-immolators had been sent in advance toseparatist forces abroad". Xinhua reported that the Lhasa public security bureau, or policeauthority, had set up a special task force to investigate thecases. Chinese officials have blamed the exiled religious leader the DalaiLama of being behind the incidents.
Foreign Ministry spokespersonLiu Weimin said on Monday that the incidents were "driven bypolitical motives and are doomed to fail." "Thesituation in Tibet is stable, and economic and social developmentof Tibet have been making continuous progress," he said."People of all ethnic groups cherish stability in Tibet. Somepeople, especially some overseas people, have been trying tosabotage such stability, and I believe this is unpopular with allthe people in Tibet." Many of the monks who died in the protests were calling for thereturn of the Dalai Lama and for greater religious freedom,according to videos of some of the self-immolations. In recent months, the self-immolations have begun to spread beyondthe walls of Tibetan monasteries. In Xiahe in Gansu, from whereTobgye Tseten - the monk who died on Sunday - was from, a Tibetanstudent Tsering Kyi died after setting herself on fire, while SonamDargye, a farmer, burned himself in Tongren, Qinghai in March. The Dalai Lama has stressed that he did not encourage theincidents, blaming repressive policies for triggering theself-immolations.
He has expressed sympathy with the monks andnuns, and chose not to answer a question last week when asked if hethought Tibetans should stop setting themselves on fire.
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