A Tibetan protester in monk’s robes doused himself with gasoline, set himself ablaze and chanted anti-China slogans as he ran down a street in Nepal’s capital yesterday, the latest in a string of self-immolations protesting China’s rule over Tibet.
The dramatic protest marked the 101st time since 2009 that a Tibetan monk, nun or layperson has set themselves on fire, according to officials from the Tibetan government-in-exile based in India.
The protesters are calling for Beijing to allow greater religious freedom and the return from exile of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who lives in India.
Tibetan exiles say 99 of the protesters set themselves alight in ethnic Tibetan areas inside China. Another man died after setting himself on fire in March last year in the Indian capital of New Delhi.
Witnesses in Nepal said a man dressed as a monk entered a cafe in Kathmandu’s Boudhanath district — home to many Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries — and asked to use the bathroom.
After spending some time there, he went onto the street and lit himself on fire.
He ran a few steps, covered in flames and chanting slogans against China, before collapsing in front of the mammoth Boudhanath stupa, one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the country, surrounded by prayer wheels and decorated with colorful streams of flitting prayer flags.
Police official Keshav Adhikari said police and residents were able to put out the flames and rush the man to a hospital. Dozens of police in riot gear surrounded the hospital where the man lay in critical condition. Adhikari said the man had yet to be identified, but appeared to be about 21 years old.
Yesterday marked the third and one of the most important days of the Losar festival, the Tibetan New Year. Many Tibetans in Nepal visit Boudhanath for the event.
Prasant Tamang, a waiter at the Golden Eye Cafe, said he found a gasoline bottle, a jacket and a bag in the cafe’s bathroom. Tamang said the man appeared normal and calm.
“He looked like the hundreds of Tibetans who came to Boudhanath today and I did not suspect he was going to set himself on fire,” Tamang said.
Penpa Tsering, speaker of the Tibetan exile parliament, said that with China cracking down on self-immolations inside Tibet, Tibetans were beginning to move their protests to other countries.
“It’s unfortunate, and each life is precious, but regular modes of protest are taken away from Tibetans, and they are expressing their discontent in this extreme way,” he said.
Thousands of Tibetan exiles live in Nepal and occasionally protest against China.
The Nepalese government has banned such demonstrations, saying it cannot allow any activities against friendly nations to take place in Nepal.