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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

3 Tibetan Herders Self-Immolate in Anti-Chinese Protest

February 7, 2012

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/06/world/asia/3-tibetan-herders-self-immolate-in-anti-chinese-protest.html

BEIJING — In a fresh illustration of growing turmoil  among ethnic Tibetans in Sichuan  Province, three livestock herders have set  themselves on fire to protest what they  saw as political and religious repression  at the hands of the Chinese authorities.

The latest cases bring the total self-immolations by ethnic Tibetans over the past year to 19. They were also apparently the first by lay people, rather than current or former members of the clergy, suggesting that self-immolation may be gaining popularity as a form of dissent. The self-immolations took place  Friday in a remote village in Seda  County, once a center of Buddhist  teaching, but reports did not surface until  the weekend because the government  had cut off Internet and telephone connections to the area, said Tsering  Woeser, a Tibetan poet in Beijing.

She said that one of the three men had died and that the two others, believed to be about 30 and  60 years old, were severely injured.

The Chinese government has sealed  off a number of counties in the region and  intensified security in an attempt to curtail the largest outbreak of unrest among  ethnic Tibetans since the 2008 riots in  Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, and elsewhere.

Protests in late January turned  deadly in Seda, which is on the border of  Gansu Province, and in Luhuo County,  known in Tibetan as Draggo, about 80 miles, to the south.

Human rights groups that track the  repression of Tibetans have given varying accounts of the number of protesters who died in clashes with the police  last month. Some say that two people  were killed when the police fired into  crowds; other estimates ranged as high  as 11, with dozens wounded.

The Chinese authorities, blaming  Tibetan separatists for inciting the violence, assert that security officers fired  in self-defense, killing two rioters, after  mobs stormed police stations and  smashed store windows.

Two dozen police officers and firefighters were wounded while trying to subdue the disturbances, the state-run media reported.

The latest reports suggest that self-immolation as a form of protest is spreading beyond the Tibetan clergy, Robert  Barnett, director of the Modern Tibetan  Studies Program at Columbia University  in New York, said by telephone. Until Friday, the 16 self-immolations from the past year had involved  monks, nuns or former clergy members, he said.

Judging by the names given for the  two injured men, Tsaptai Tsering, and  Kyarel, Mr. Barnett said, the latest protesters appeared to be lay people. Ms. Woeser, the poet, said that the three had  herded sheep and cows and were not  members of the clergy.  Unlike the others, they lived far from the larger towns and monasteries where past protests had occurred.

“There is a lot of frustration in the Tibetan areas,” Mr. Barnett said. “People are saying they aren’t being listened to; the government didn’t respond constructively to the protests in 2008 and didn’t respond constructively to the whole year we’ve seen of self-immolations.”

In Sichuan Province in particular, he said, the authorities have blocked off monasteries and adopted other aggressive measures that have raised tensions.


Michael Wines contributed reporting and  Mia Li contributed research.
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