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Protesting Tibetan Monk Sets Himself On Fire

February 13, 2012

A Tibetan monk has set himself on fire in a protest against the Chinese government, according to pro-Tibet groups.

Holly Williams, China correspondent

The monk - thought to be in his 30s - is believed to have survived the suicide attempt in China's far-western Qinghai Province, which is heavily populated with Tibetans. He is reported to be in a serious condition.

Pro-Tibet groups say he was taken away from the scene of his self-immolation by Chinese security personnel. His whereabouts are unknown.

The incident brings the number of Tibetans inside China to have set themselves alight over the last year to 21.

Many of the suicides and attempted suicides were monks and nuns, including a senior member of the clergy widely regarded as a "living Buddha". Several of the dead were teenagers.

It is believed that the self-immolations are protests against Chinese interference in Tibetan religious practices. Several of those who set themselves on fire are reported to have chanted slogans calling for religious freedom as they burned.

"It underlines the fact that they feel they have no other recourse," said Stephanie Brigden of the Free Tibet group.

"There's no redress in law or politics, and they feel that this is their only option. What's of great concern is that many more names have been circulating of people who are willing to self-immolate."

But the self-inflicted burnings also appear to be part of a broader confrontation between the Chinese state and restive Tibetan communities.

In Sichuan Province clashes between the police and Tibetans have reportedly turned violent in recent weeks. Exile groups claim several Tibetans have been shot dead.

This week a Chinese government spokesman said authorities would "resolutely crack down on any attempts to incite violence, disrupt national unity and territorial integrity in accordance with the law".

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said the incidents were "obviously incited and masterminded by someone behind the scenes" - an apparent reference to the exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who has condemned the self-immolations, but said that Tibetans are being driven to acts of desperation.

The Chinese government previously referred to the self-immolations as "terrorism in disguise".

Following the Communist Party's "peaceful liberation" of Tibet in 1951, the Chinese state and its Tibetan people have frequently come into conflict.

Recent Chinese immigration into Tibetan areas, and the large economic disparity between Tibetans and the Chinese majority, have also fuelled resentment.

In an apparent attempt to appease Tibetan anger, in recent years the Chinese government has poured billion of pounds into the region, building new infrastructure and settling nomads in newly-constructed homes.

The last time China witnessed violent turmoil in its Tibetan areas was in 2008, when peaceful Tibetan protests erupted into several days of looting, arson and killing. Dozens of people - many of them Chinese civilians - lost their lives.

In some Tibetan areas there are now police stationed inside Buddhist monasteries. Monks tell of heightened political tension.

They are no longer able to display photographs of the Dalai Lama, they say, and "political education" sessions have been intensified.

"The Chinese constitution says we have religious freedom, but in reality we have no freedom," said one young monk who was too frightened to reveal his identity.

"Nobody wants to die, but these people who have self-immolated have given their lives in order to tell the world about the plight of Tibetans."
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