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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China tensions high after Tibet monk sets himself alight

March 1, 2009

February 28, 2009

BEIJING (AFP) ? Tensions were high in a flashpoint town of southwest
China Saturday after a Tibetan monk set himself on fire in protest
against Chinese rule, activist groups and residents said.

Chinese authorities confirmed a man had set himself alight, but did not
acknowledge claims by activist groups that police shot the monk and that
he embarked on his protest after officials banned prayers at his monastery.

The incident on Friday came amid reported protests across the Tibetan
plateau ahead of the ultra-sensitive 50th anniversary on March 10 of a
failed uprising against Chinese rule that led to the Dalai Lama fleeing
to India.

The monk, in his late 20s, was shot after dousing himself with petrol
and setting himself alight in the Tibetan-populated town of Aba in
southwest China's Sichuan province, the London-based group Free Tibet

The monk, from Kirti monastery in Aba, held a flag with an image of the
Dalai Lama, the Himalayan region's spiritual leader, as he embarked on
his protest, Free Tibet and other activist groups said.

They cited unnamed witnesses and Aba residents.

In a brief report on China's official Xinhua news agency, Aba Communist
Party chief Shi Jun confirmed a man wearing monk's robes had walked out
of the monastery and set himself alight.

Shi reportedly said police put out the fire, and that the man was taken
to hospital with burn injuries to his neck and head.

The Xinhua report made no mention of any shooting by police, while local
authorities refused to comment to AFP.

Locals telephoned by AFP on Saturday were extremely fearful of
discussing the issue. Some said police had fired shots but they would
not comment on who these were aimed at.

One resident, who could not be named for fear of reprisal, said police
had told her not to say anything but she confirmed police had fired shots.

"It's true, but I can't say anymore. My phone is monitored," she told
AFP before hanging up.

Other residents also confirmed police shooting, but quickly put the
phone down.

Some spoke of a strong force presence in the town after the incident.

"There are many policemen on patrol in the street and all of them have
guns," an employee at a teahouse in Aba told AFP.

According to International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), the monk set
himself alight after authorities blocked around 1,000 monks at Kirti
monastery from holding prayers for the Tibetan New Year, which fell on

Aba has been a flashpoint town since police opened fire on an
anti-Chinese protest there in March last year, in violence that
activists said left at least seven Tibetans dead.

Tensions have been mounting for weeks across the Tibetan plateau ahead
of the 1959 uprising anniversary, and Chinese authorities have
reportedly dramatically increased security in the areas.

Next month also marks one year since peaceful protests that began on the
49th anniversary of the uprising escalated into violent rioting in
Tibet's capital, Lhasa, and other areas of the plateau, such as Aba.

Tibet's government-in-exile says the government crackdown following last
year's unrest left 200 Tibetans dead.

China denies this, but has reported police killed one "insurgent" and
blamed Tibetan "rioters" for 21 deaths.

The Dalai Lama warned on Tuesday that Chinese authorities were trying to
provoke Tibetans into remonstrating.

"When this happens the authorities can then indulge in (an)
unprecedented and unimaginable forceful clampdown," he said.

Travel agents and other industry people have told AFP that Tibet has
been closed to foreign tourists for March, although the Chinese
government insists the Himalayan region remains open.

Foreign reporters are barred from travelling to Tibet independently.

China has ruled Tibet since 1951, a year after sending troops in to
"liberate" the region from what it said was serfdom under the Dalai Lama.
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