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Thousands Mourn Tibetan Self-Immolator in China

Sonam Dargye's body, covered in ceremonial scarves called katha, can be seen at the foot of the golden statue at Rongwo Temple.
Sonam Dargye's body, covered in ceremonial scarves called katha, can be seen at the foot of the golden statue at Rongwo Temple.

Thousands of people gathered in an ethnic Tibetan area of China's western Qinghai province Sunday to mourn the death of a farmer (Sonam Dargye) who set himself on fire Saturday to protest Chinese policies in the region.

Witnesses told VOA that protesters demanded freedom, human rights for Tibet, and the return from exile of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

The 44-year-old farmer and father of three set himself on fire near the town center of Rongwo in Qinghai.  His act followed another self-immolation protest earlier in the week by a monk in southwestern China's Sichuan province, where many Tibetans live.

The London-based Free Tibet rights group quoted an eyewitness as saying "[Sunday's protest] is the biggest gathering of people I have ever seen in this place. People are pouring in from the villages."

Watch Video of the Cremation Funeral Ceremony for Sonam Dargye


March has long been a tense time for China and its Tibetan areas, as the month marks key anniversaries in the Tibetan struggle for more freedom.   

Twenty-nine Tibetans, mostly Buddhist monks, have set themselves on fire in the past year to draw attention to what they describe as Beijing's oppression of the Tibetan religion and culture.  At least 20 have died.

The Chinese government has described the self-immolations as barbaric and terrorists acts.  It accuses overseas groups and the Dalai Lama of inciting separatism.  Beijing also has also portrayed those who have set themselves on fire as outcasts and criminals.

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