Two men set themselves on fire in the Tibetan city of Lhasa yesterday, the first in a spate of self-immolations in recent months to occur inside the regional capital, China’s Xinhua News Agency reported.
One man died of his injuries after police put out the flames “in two minutes” and took both of them to hospital, Xinhua reported, citing the publicity department of the Chinese Communist Party’s regional committee in Tibet.
The self-immolations occurred in a neighborhood of Lhasa where large crowds of pilgrims gathered to celebrate the anniversary of Buddha’s birth. Chinese officials have stepped up security in areas populated by Tibetans as monks and their supporters have engaged in self-immolation to protest government policies in the region.
“It’s very significant that it happened in the religious and political heart of Lhasa outside the Jokhang temple,” Kate Saunders, a spokeswoman for the International Campaign for Tibet, said in a phone interview from London. “It’s a further indication that the causes of the self-immolations across Tibet are still there.”
Tibetans accuse China of attacking their culture, religion and environment with policies that have moved thousands of ethnic Han Chinese into Tibet in the name of economic development. There have been at least 34 immolations since March 2011, according to the Associated Press.
Fled in 1959
Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has lived in northern India since fleeing in 1959 from China’s military takeover of the region. China accuses the Dalai Lama of waging a campaign for independence while the spiritual leader says he is seeking autonomy for Tibet.
“They were a continuation of the self-immolations in other Tibetan areas and these acts were all aimed at separating Tibet from China,” Xinhua cited Hao Peng, secretary of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the party’s Tibet Committee, as saying.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said at a briefing today in Beijing that the “political motivation behind inciting this kind of harmful incident will not succeed.”
— With assistance by Nick Wadhams