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14 April 2024

China hit by more self-immolations: reports


A Tibetan died and two others were seriously hurt when they set themselves on fire in a remote Chinese village in the latest protests against Beijing's rule, an exile group and US-based broadcaster said.

This brings to at least 19 the number of Tibetans to have set themselves on fire in the past year in protest against what they see as repressive policies in Tibetan-inhabited areas, which were hit by deadly unrest last month.

The London-based group Free Tibet and US-backed Radio Free Asia (RFA) said the three set themselves alight Friday in remote Phuhu village in the southwestern province of Sichuan, which has big populations of ethnic Tibetans.

AFP was unable to independently confirm the information, as phone lines to the area of western Sichuan were the incident reportedly happened appear to have been disabled, with calls being met with a rapid beeping tone.

RFA on Saturday quoted an unnamed source as saying the protesters "had called for freedom for Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama," the predominantly Buddhist region's exiled spiritual leader.

Both RFA and Free Tibet named the two Tibetans who were seriously injured, adding they were aged around 60 and 30, but the identity of the Tibetan who died was unclear.

Phuhu is part of Seda county and around 145 kilometres (90 miles) away from Seda town -- where rights groups say police fired on Tibetan protesters on January 24, killing at least one person.

The shooting was one of at least three deadly protests in Sichuan over the course of a few days, in which rights groups say at least three were killed and scores of others injured.

China has only acknowledged two of the incidents, and says that in one case, police were forced to fire on violent demonstrators. It has accused "trained separatists" of fometing the unrest.

Calls to local government and police offices and hotels in Seda would not go through on Sunday, and were met with a rapid beeping tone. AFP reporters who tried to get to Seda last month were turned around by police.

One driver who makes regular trips from the provincial capital of Chengdu to Seda said security was still very tight after the unrest.

"Tourists are allowed to go, so long as they carry their ID cards, and armed police check the registrations of every car and drivers' licences," she said Sunday over the phone.

Tibetans have long chafed at China's rule over the vast Tibetan plateau, accusing Beijing of curbing religious freedoms and eroding their culture and language, and these tensions have intensified over the past year.

Beijing, however, insists that Tibetans enjoy religious freedom and have benefited from improved living standards brought on by China's economic expansion.

It blames the Dalai Lama -- a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule -- for fomenting much of the unrest.