Tibetan 'attempts self-immolation in China'

 Published: 1/14/2012 7:17:00 PM GMT
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A Tibetan set themselves on fire near the restive Kirti monastery in southwest China on Saturday and police fired on a crowd of locals who attempted to rescue the burned body, rights groups said.

The 16th self-immolation attempt to hit Tibetan areas in less than a year, the incident occurred in Sichuan province's Aba county, scene of sporadic unrest since a monk set fire to himself and died last March, Free Tibet and the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said.

It was not immediately known if the Tibetan died in the latest incident -- nor was the person's gender immediately clear.

"There is an emergency situation in Aba after a layperson self-immolated and was beaten badly by police," Kate Saunders, director of Washington-based ICT told AFP over the telephone.

"Free Tibet can confirm that at least one woman has been shot," Stephanie Brigden, director of the London-based campaign group said.

It was not immediately known if the woman survived the shooting.

ICT said its sources inside China also said police had fired on the crowd.

Saunders said ICT's sources told her "locals tried to drag the body away and police fired, causing more people to gather in the street."

Free Tibet said an eyewitness source described the situation as "terrifying," that "a strong gas" was used on the crowd and that "many had fallen to the ground" and were then beaten and detained.

Official government accounts directly contracted the rights groups' claims.

A man reached by telephone Saturday evening at the Aba municipal Communist Party committee's propaganda department told AFP he knew nothing about a self-immolation and denied the clashes in the street.

"This is not true. We have police on the street as normal. The town has normal order," he said, declining to give his name.

Before Saturday, at least 15 Tibetans have set fire to themselves over the last year -- most young monks in their teens or early 20s -- but the last self-immolation on Sunday, was perpetrated by a high-ranking Buddhist cleric.

Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has expressed concern over the wave of self-immolations, which he blamed on the "cultural genocide" of Tibetans under Chinese rule.

At least nine of the 15 who have set themselves alight have died, while the whereabouts of the others remains unknown as they have disappeared into custody, rights groups say.

China blames the Dalai Lama -- who fled Tibet following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and is vilified as a "separatist" by Communist authorities -- for much of the unrest in Tibetan-inhabited regions.

The government denies it uses repressive methods against Tibetans, insisting that they enjoy freedom of religious belief and that huge ongoing investment into Tibetan-inhabited areas has greatly raised their standard of living.

But after each self-immolation, authorities have increased security in the area where the incident occurred, which rights groups say has exacerbated the problem.

A woman from the Aba traffic police reached by telephone told AFP it was normal to have more police on the street at this time of the year.

"It is getting closer to Spring Festival and we do have police on the street. For the same reason, there are less tourists. But we have normal order here," she said, also declining to give her name.

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