Wed, Aug 29, 2012 - Page 1 News List

Two Tibetan teenagers die, immolation protests surpass 50, rights groups say


Two teenagers burned to death in southwest China, making it more than 50 Tibetans who have set themselves on fire to protest Beijing’s rule, rights groups said yesterday.

Lobsang Kalsang, 18, a Buddhist monk, and former monk Damchoek, 17, died in hospital on Monday after setting themselves on fire in Aba town, which has become a flashpoint for such protests by ethnic Tibetans.

China’s Tibetan-inhabited areas have seen an explosion in the violent form of protest since March last year, when the self-immolation of a monk named Phuntsog at Aba’s revered Kirti Monastery sparked riots and a police crackdown.

The first recorded similar incident was in February 2009, and there have now been 51 such fiery protests, according to tallies compiled by overseas-based pressure groups Free Tibet and the International Campaign for Tibet.

In 2009, a young Kirti monk doused himself in oil and set himself on fire carrying an image of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, before being shot by police and taken to a local hospital.

The next incident was not recorded until last year, but since then, dozens of ethnic Tibetans, most of them young monks and nuns, have set themselves on fire. Many, though not all, have died.

Experts say suicide is a major taboo in Tibetan Buddhist culture, and the immolations are a sign of growing desperation among those living in the vast and remote Tibetan plateau.

The two men in the latest incident shouted slogans condemning Chinese policies in Tibet as they set themselves alight, Radio Free Asia said, citing two India-based monks with contacts in Aba, -Sichuan Province.

They protested close to the Kirti Monastery, which has been under intense security since Phuntsog’s immolation.

A reporter who managed to gain access in March saw hundreds of armed soldiers, some of them carrying fire extinguishers, lining roads, patrolling the town’s narrow main street and manning road blocks.

“Tibetans’ fundamental human rights are being ignored by international leaders who are afraid of risking their relationships with China,” Free Tibet director Stephanie Brigden said in a statement. “The time has come for each one of us to speak up and demand Tibetan freedom.”

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