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Tibetan monk sets himself on fire - activist group

March 1, 2009

Fri Feb 27, 2009 2:13pm GMT
BEIJING, Feb 27 (Reuters) - A Tibetan monk set himself on fire in
protest on Friday during a prayer festival in a part of western China
that erupted in deadly riots a year ago, an activist group said.

The monk started the blaze after walking out of a monastery in Aba
county, an ethnic Tibetan area in Sichuan province, carrying a Tibetan
flag with a picture of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, said Matt
Whitticase, spokesman for the Free Tibet Campaign.

The monk was surrounded by armed police, three gun shots were heard and
he was carried away in a van after falling to the ground, Whitticase
said, citing unidentified sources. It was not known whether the monk was
dead or alive, he added.

Reuters reached three people by phone in the town outside the Kirti
monastery, where the monk had been based, but was unable to obtain
confirmation of the protest.

"This is the first incident that I am aware of a Tibetan self-immolating
since the late 1990s," Whitticase said. "It is extremely rare."

Tibetans marked their New Year this week and the Kirti monastery, which
had been a centre of pro-independence demonstrations last March before a
crackdown, was observing the Monlam prayer festival on Friday,
Whitticase said.

Next month also marks the 50th anniversary of the exile of the Dalai
Lama, following a failed insurrection against China, and there is
intense security across Tibet itself and many neighbouring areas with
ethnic Tibetans. (Reporting by Simon Rabinovitch; Editing by Paul Tait)
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