- Buddhism - China - human rights - Tibet
AFP - Tensions were high in a flashpoint town of southwest China Saturday after police shot a Tibetan monk who set himself on fire in protest against Chinese rule, activist groups and residents said.
The alleged incident comes after protests flared in other Tibetan areas, the groups said, ahead of the ultra-sensitive 50th anniversary of a failed uprising on March 10 that led to the Dalai Lama fleeing to India.
The monk, in his late 20s, was shot after dousing himself with petrol and setting himself alight in the Tibetan populated town of Aba in Sichuan province on Friday afternoon, the London-based group Free Tibet reported.
It was not known whether he died as he was immediately surrounded by police and taken away after being shot, according to the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), an activist group based in the United States.
The monk, from Kirti monastery, held a Tibetan flag with an image of the Dalai Lama, the Himalayan region's spiritual leader, as he embarked on his protest, the activist groups said, citing unnamed witnesses and Aba residents.
Locals AFP reached by phone on Saturday were extremely fearful of discussing the issue but admitted police had fired shots, although they would not comment on who these were aimed at.
Asked whether a monk had set himself on fire, one resident, who could not be named for fear of reprisal, said police had told her not to say anything.
But she said police had fired shots.
"It's true, but I can't say anymore. My phone is monitored," she told AFP before hanging up.
Other residents also confirmed police shooting, but quickly put the phone down, nervous about being caught discussing the situation.
Some spoke of a strong police presence in the town after the incident.
"There are many policemen on patrol in the street and all of them have guns," an employee at a teahouse in Aba, who could not be named either, told AFP.
Local government and police would not comment, and China's foreign ministry said it had no knowledge of the incident.
According to ICT, the self-immolation incident happened after authorities blocked around 1,000 monks at Kirti monastery from observing traditional prayers held after Tibetan New Year, which fell on Wednesday.
They all dispersed following the orders given by district officials, but the monk left the monastery grounds by himself, and subsequently set himself on fire in Aba, the ICT said.
The town and its surrounding areas have been a flashpoint since police opened fire on an anti-Chinese protest there in March last year, in violence that activists said left at least seven Tibetans dead.
Tensions have been mounting for weeks in Tibet and neighbouring western provinces, including Sichuan, ahead of the uprising anniversary in March, and Chinese authorities have reportedly increased security in the areas.
Next month also marks one year since peaceful protests that began on the 49th anniversary of the uprising escalated four days later into violent rioting in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, and elsewhere across the Tibetan plateau.
Tibet's government-in-exile says the government crackdown following last year's unrest left 200 Tibetans dead.
China denies this, but has reported police killed one "insurgent" and blamed Tibetan "rioters" for 21 deaths.
The Dalai Lama issued a bleak warning on Tuesday, saying Chinese authorities were trying to provoke Tibetans into remonstrating in March by implementing strict measures in Tibet and neighbouring provinces.
"When this happens the authorities can then indulge in (an) unprecedented and unimaginable forceful clampdown," he said.
Travel agents and other industry people have told AFP that Tibet has been closed to foreign tourists during March, although the Chinese government insists the Himalayan region remains open.
China has ruled Tibet since 1951, a year after sending troops in to "liberate" the region from what it said was serfdom under the Dalai Lama.