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Buddhist nun sets herself on fire as Tibet protests intensify

by Peter Foster, The Telegraph, 18 Oct 2011

Beijing, China -- A Buddhist nun has become the first woman to die during a wave of suicide-protests against Chinese rule in Tibet, the London-based campaign group Free Tibet has reported.

The nun's self-immolation now means that a total of nine Tibetan monks and nuns have set themselves on fire this year – and seven in the last calendar month – apparently in defiance of China's moves to suppress ethnic Tibetan dissent in the region.

Tenzin Wangmo, 20, is said to have cried out for religious freedom and the return of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, before setting herself on fire on Monday. She is reported to have died at the scene.

Free Tibet said the latest suicide in Aba prefecture – a restive ethnic Tibetan corner of Sichuan Province that borders the Tibetan Autonomous Region – suggested that the protest movement in Tibet was now growing.

"The unrest in Tibet is escalating and widening. The number and frequency of self-immolations is unprecedented," said Stephanie Brigden, director of Free Tibet.

"Information from Tibet suggests there are more who are willing to give their lives, determined to draw global attention to the persistent and brutal violations Tibetans suffer under Chinese occupation."

She added: "The acts of self-immolation are not taking place in isolation, protests have been reported in the surrounding region and calls for wider protests are growing."

Free Tibet, which also reported that security forces shot and wounded two Tibetans during a protest in Sichuan on Sunday, warned of local reports of envelopes being distributed in restaurants and shops calling for further actions on Wednesday.

According to credible information from inside the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, a large number of Tibetans were planning attend temples on Wednesday to pray and peacefully demonstrate solidarity with those who had lost their lives in this year’s protests. “This indicates that news of the protests is broadening and is widely understood,” Ms Brigden of Free Tibet told The Telegraph.

China's government is facing mounting international concern over the deteriorating situation in Tibet which has been in the midst of a severe security clampdown since March 2008 when a wave of anti-Chinese riots hit the Tibetan Plateau, including the capital Lhasa.

The startling round of self-immolations began on March 16, on the third anniversary of the 2008, riots which left 10 Tibetans dead and prompted a new series of "strike hard" campaigns against Tibetans, rights groups said.

After a second self-immolation in August and two more in September, the rate of attempted suicides has picked up sharply this month, with monks setting themselves on fire on October 3, October 7 and October 15.

The focus of the protests in Aba prefecture has been Kirti Monastery, where the first self-immolation took place in March and where Tibetan groups said the Chinese authorities had subsequently staged a "patriotic re-education campaign".

Free Tibet said the number of monks at the monastery had fallen to 600 from 2,500 during a six-month campaign, with at least three months handed 10-13 year jail sentences for 'assisting' in the original self-immolation in March.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said that Aba had been the scene of "brutal" security raids, arbitrary detentions of monks, increased surveillance within monasteries, and a permanent police presence inside monasteries to monitor religious activities.

Sophie Richardson, the group's China director said the measures were "exacerbating the tensions" and called on the Chinese government to address underlying grievances in the Tibetan region, in a statement issued last week.

China fiercely rejects any attempt at outside interference in Tibet, banning journalists or any independent monitors from travelling to the region and making it impossible to get independent verification of the claims of both sides.

Since taking control of Tibet in the 1950 and driving the Dalai Lama into exile in India following a failed uprising in 1959, China says it's economic and social reforms have freed many ordinary people from the bonds of what it says was a 'feudal' state.

Last week China's Foreign Ministry responded to the spate of self-immolations, condemning Tibetan rights groups and the government-in-exile in Dharamsala for drawing attention to them as a way to inspire more Tibetans to kill themselves.

"They publicly played it up, spread rumours and incited more people to follow suit," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Beijing, labelling the self-immolations as part of a "separatist plot" to end Chinese rule in Tibet.


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