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Protests spread to Tibet's Lhasa; 2 set themselves ablaze

May 28, 2012 17:27 IST

A wave of self-immolations in protest against the Chinese government, which has rocked regions close to Tibet for several months, has now spread to Lhasa, where two Tibetans for the first time set themselves on fire outside a famous temple, leaving one of them dead.

Dargye, from Aba County in the Tibetan area of southwest China's Sichuan province, and Tobgye Tseten, from Xiahe County in northwestern Gansu province, attempted self-immolations at Pargor Street, a popular market place in the heart of the Tibetan capital Lhasa on Sunday, Tibet's regional committee of the ruling Communist Party of China said on Monday.

Police put out the flames in two minutes and sent the men to the hospital. Tobgye Tseten died and Dargye survived with injuries, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Ever since the self-immolations began last year, most of the policemen in Tibet have been provided with small fire extinguishers to douse the flames.

Dargye's condition was stable and he was able to talk, an official statement said.

The incident took place when downtown Lhasa was particularly crowded to celebrate the Saga Dawa to mark the anniversary of Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death, the report said.

Devotees, who had gathered at the Jokhang Temple, walked clockwise around Pargor Street as part of a Buddhist ritual.

These were the first cases of self-immolation in the Tibetan capital and the second case in the province. Last year, one self immolation incident was reported from Qumdo.

So far, nearly 35 self-immolation incidents have taken place in the Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces over the past year, besides one in New Delhi during the visit of President Hu Jintao. The protesters have been calling for the return of the Dalai Lama to his homeland and lifting of security controls put up by China.

The Lhasa incident on Sunday was settled quickly, order was restored and chaos avoided, the statement said.

China has already enforced strict security measures all over Tibet and Tibetan-inhabited areas to prevent the spread of such incidents.

A senior official in Tibet condemned the Lhasa self-immolations, calling them separatist attempts.

"They were a continuation of the self-immolations in other Tibetan areas and these acts were all aimed at separating Tibet from China," said Hao Peng, secretary of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the PC Tibet Committee.

In his reaction, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told a media briefing on Monday that the trend of inciting self-immolation is unpopular and such behaviour driven by political motives is doomed to fail.

Asked about claims by Tibetan officials in the past that no such incidents have taken place in Tibet itself, he said the situation in Tibet is stable, with continuous economic and social development.

"People of all ethnic groups in Tibet cherish the stability in Tibet. Some overseas people have been trying to sabotage that stability. I believe it is unpopular with all the people in Tibet," he said.

Lhasa's public security bureau has set up a special task force to investigate the case.

Officials probing the previous self immolation attempts claimed that in many cases,  photos of the designated self-immolators had been sent in advance to separatist forces abroad, indicating that the self-immolations had been carefully planned, the Xinhua report said.

After the incidents, separatist forces would immediately publish these photos alongside pictures of the self-immolation scenes to play up the situation, they claimed.

Premier Wen Jiabao said early this year that China opposes the Tibetan clergy to take such radical moves of self-immolations to disturb and undermine social harmony.

"The young Tibetans are innocent and we feel deeply distressed by their behaviour," Wen had said and blamed the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamshala for such incidents.

K J M Varma In Beijing
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