Group says Tibetan sets herself on fire in protest
BEIJING (AP) — A Tibetan nun calling for greater religious freedom died after setting herself on fire in western China, the latest in a series of self-immolations among the region's Buddhist clergy, an advocacy group said Tuesday.
In a separate incident, security forces shot two Tibetans during a protest outside a police station, London-based Free Tibet reported.
The two incidents could not immediately be independently confirmed Tuesday, although tensions have been high across the region since widespread anti-government protests in 2008. Communist government officials gave no comment when contacted.
Free Tibet said the nun, 20-year-old Tenzin Wangmo, died on the scene after setting herself on fire early Monday afternoon outside Dechen Chokorling nunnery in Sichuan province's Aba prefecture where a number of other self-immolations have taken place this year. The group said she chanted slogans as she set herself alight calling for greater religious freedom and the return of Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama.
The two men shot Sunday in Sichuan's Garze prefecture, identified as Dawa and Druklo, were taken away by area residents and their conditions were unknown, Free Tibet said. Many Tibetans use just one name.
Although there is no tradition of self-immolation as a form of protest in Tibetan society, a total of nine monks and former monks and one nun have set themselves on fire since March in what are seen as desperate acts to draw attention to repression of Tibetan Buddhism.
Most ignited the flames while calling for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. Aged in their late teens and twenties, at least five died of their injuries, while the condition of the other four is not known.
"The acts of self-immolation are not taking place in isolation, protests have been reported in the surrounding region and calls for wider protests are growing," Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden was quoted as saying in a statement.
The United States said it was seriously concerned about the latest reported self-immolations.
"In light of the continuing, underlying grievances of China's Tibetan population, we would urge China and its leaders to respect the rights of Tibetans (and) to address some of the policies in Tibetan areas that have created tensions," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a news conference in Washington.
China's Foreign Ministry last week accused the Dalai Lama's followers of encouraging the self-immolations by not denouncing them.
Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin on Tuesday said he was still seeking information on the latest incident, but said the government would "handle this appropriately."
"We believe the encouragement of such behavior at the cost of human life is immoral," Liu said.
The self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile has described the self-immolations as tragic acts and called for the international community to urge Beijing to open a dialogue on its policies in Tibet and traditionally Tibetan regions of western China. A daylong prayer service for the self-immolators and jailed Tibetan political prisoners is planned for Wednesday at the Dalai Lama's headquarters in the Indian town of Dharmsala.
Penpa Tsering, speaker of the Tibetan parliament, said the self-immolations were the Chinese government's responsibility and called for an independent fact finding to investigate conditions among Tibetans in China.
"(It is) not in our mandate to tell Tibetans to stop self-immolating, it will not help to improve the situation, it is up to the Chinese government to make people stop," he told reporters in the Indian capital of New Delhi. "Frustrated young Tibetans are using the self immolation as a way of attracting attention from the world's media."
Communist Party and government spokesmen in Aba said they knew nothing about the reported incident and refused to give their names or titles because they weren't authorized to speak with foreign media.
A party spokesman in Garze's Seda county also said he had no knowledge of the shootings and refused to comment further.
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.