Tibetan monk self-immolates in western China

March 14, 2012 - 9:06 PM
China Politics

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao gestures during a press conference after the closing session of the annual National People's Congress held in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, in China, Wednesday, March 14, 2012. Wen, entering his final year as China's premier, called Wednesday for vague political reforms to forestall chaos and solidify growth as the nation's legislature approved a budget aiming to boost domestic consumption in the face of weak demand for exports. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)

BEIJING (AP) — A Tibetan monk set himself on fire in western China Wednesday, an overseas activist group and a Chinese state news agency reported, the latest self-immolation by Tibetans over the suppression of their religion and culture.

Jamyang Palden burned himself in Tongren, a monastery town in Qinghai province, and survived after security forces put out the blaze, the official Xinhua News Agency and London-based Free Tibet said.

More than two dozen Tibetans have set themselves on fire in China over the last year to protest the suppression of their religion and culture and call for the Dalai Lama's return.

Palden walked out of Rongwo Monastery in the morning dressed in a gasoline-soaked robe, then used a lighter to burn himself, Xinhua said, citing a county government spokesman.

Free Tibet said Palden went to a public square, prostrated three times beside Rongwo Monastery and shouted "Let His Holiness return! Freedom for Tibet and the Tibetan language!" before he set himself on fire.

Security forces put out the fire by covering Palden's body with a sheet, the group said.

Palden was taken to a hospital, but was brought back to the monastery by monks who feared he would be arrested by Chinese authorities, Free Tibet said.

Xinhua said officials were talking with the monk's relatives to try to send Palden to a hospital in the provincial capital of Xining where he could receive better medical treatment.

Free Tibet said Palden took part in the Tibetan protests in 2008, the largest uprising against Chinese rule in 50 years, and was arrested and tortured for it.

The group said about 500 monks and other Tibetans gathered in the town square to demonstrate, with some holding up images of their exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Monks from other monasteries were traveling to the town to express their solidarity and people trying to enter the town were being stopped and questioned by plainclothes security, it said.

Calls to Tongren police, local government and Communist Party offices rang unanswered.

At his annual news conference in Beijing on Wednesday, Premier Wen Jiabao spoke out against the immolations and said it was sad to see such behavior from innocent Tibetans.

"We are opposed to taking such radical moves which disturb and undermine the social harmony," Wen said. "The young Tibetans are innocent. We feel deeply distressed by their behavior."

China has previously sought to discredit the self-immolators, saying that some suffered mental problems or had criminal records.

Wen also stressed that Tibet and other heavily Tibetan areas of China remain "inseparable parts of China's territory."

Tibetans, including a prominent writer in Beijing, have pleaded for an end to the self-immolations, saying they are not helping the cause of Tibetan rights.

The communist government has blamed supporters of the Dalai Lama for encouraging the self-immolations.

The Dalai Lama has said he does not encourage the protests, but has praised the courage of those who engage in self-immolation and has attributed the protests to what he calls China's "cultural genocide" in Tibet.