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July 17, 2012

Beijing Pressured After Teen Monk Self-Immolates

by Michael Lipin

The London-based rights group Free Tibet says the death of an 18-year-old Tibetan monk in a self-immolation protest in southwest China Tuesday should prompt international pressure on Beijing to "let Tibetans decide their own future."

In a written statement, Free Tibet director Stephanie Brigden said Tuesday's suicide of Lobsang Lozin in Sichuan province shows that Tibetan calls for freedom now are "overwhelming." Activists have reported more than 40 self-imm ​​olations since 2009 by Tibetans protesting what they see as repressive government policies. Some of the self-immolations have been fatal.

Tibetan activists said Lozin set himself on fire at Gyalrong Tsodun Kirti Monastery in Ngaba Tibetan autonomous prefecture in Sichuan province, and walked toward a local government office shouting slogans.

"Some say he walked around 100 steps toward the Chinese communist party office in Ngaba, yet we cannot confirm this," said Kanyag Tsering, a Dharamsala-based representative of Kirti monastery. "And then he fell down and died."

Administrators of the Tibetan government-in-exile, which is also based in the Indian city, expressed "deep concern" about Lozin's death and said Chinese authorities sent a large contingent of armed police to the monastery's town, Barkham, in an apparent bid to prevent further unrest.

Activists said local Tibetans blocked a bridge to prevent police from reaching the monastery.

According to Tsering, resident monks moved quickly to retrieve the teenager's body.

"The monks have cleaned his body, brought it in the monastery and said prayers," said Tsering. "The unusual thing is that they are preparing to cremate his body tonight. According to Tibetan custom, they would usually keep the body for a few days and cremate it on an appropriate day. But since they are cremating it tonight, it shows that the monks fear that Chinese officials will take away his body."

There was no immediate comment on the incident from the Chinese government, but Beijing has said Tibetans enjoy religious freedom and higher living standards resulting from China's economic development.

Tibetans have long accused Beijing of suppressing and eroding their culture by flooding Tibetan regions with Han Chinese, the county's main ethnic group.

Activists posted a photo on the Internet purporting to show Lozin on fire. Two other monks from the same monastery died after setting themselves on fire on March 30. The monastery is one of the region's largest, with more than 300 monks.

- Graham White and VOA Tibetan Service's Dorje Tseten contributed to this report.