Two young Tibetans set themselves on fire in eastern Tibet Wednesday, while calling for Tibetan independence and a long life for their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Exile leaders say the activists, age 22 and 24, were carrying Tibetan national flags as they launched their midafternoon protest in Zatoe town, in the southeastern Kham region of the Tibetan plateau. Early reports quote witnesses saying one of the protesters died, while the condition and the whereabouts of the other was not known.
A written statement by the protesters said: "People like us are unable to contribute anything toward Tibetan religion and culture, or contribute economically to help Tibetans." They said they chose to self-immolate "to show our love to the Tibetan people [and] our loyalty to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama." Graphic video of the fiery protest forwarded to the Tibetan exile community reached VOA's Tibetan service within hours and quickly circulated on the Internet.
Graphic video of Tibetan immolations
The Chinese government, which views Tibet as a non-negotiable part of China, has forcefully condemned the protests, which erupted 15 months ago as Chinese security forces sought to lock down the region in a push to prevent such demonstrations.
Since then, at least 44 Buddhist monks, nuns and their supporters have set themselves ablaze, with most of them calling for independence and the safe return of their spiritual leader.
Beijing says the immolations incite separatism and are directed from outside the country. But representatives of the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in northern India, say protesters are driven to self-immolate in large part because they can no longer tolerate Beijing's ongoing push against Tibetan culture and religion.