Teenage Tibetan monk 'self-immolates' in China

A teenage Tibetan Buddhist monk set himself on fire in southwest China on Tuesday, the exiled Tibetan government said, the latest in a series of self-immolation protests against Chinese rule.

The 18-year old monk, identified as Lobsang Lozin, set himself alight in Bharkham county in Sichuan province as he marched towards a government office, the India-based Central Tibetan Administration said in a statement.

The monk died on the spot, the statement said. Local government and police in Bharkham, known as Maerkang in Chinese, could not immediately confirm the suicide when contacted.

Including Tuesday's incident, at least 42 people have set themselves on fire in Tibetan-inhabited areas of China in recent months, in protest at repressive government policies, according to activists.

A large contingent of armed police were moving towards Bharkham following the incident, the exiled government said. Local Tibetans have blocked a bridge to prevent the police from arriving, raising fears of a confrontation between the two groups, it added. Bharkham is located in Aba Prefecture where most of the recent self-immolations have occurred.

Tibetans have long chafed under China's rule over the vast Himalayan plateau, saying that Beijing has curbed religious freedoms and their culture is being eroded by an influx of Han Chinese, the country's main ethnic group.

Beijing however, says Tibetans enjoy religious freedom and have benefited from improved living standards brought on by China's economic expansion. On May 27 two men set themselves on fire in front of the Jokhang temple, a renowned centre for Buddhist pilgrimage in the centre of Lhasa, in the first such incident to hit the regional capital of Tibet.

Lhasa was the scene of violent anti-Chinese government protests in 2008, which later spread to other areas inhabited by Tibetans, and authorities have kept the city under tight security ever since. Earlier this month China started work on a 30 billion yuan (USD 4.8 billion) tourism project in Lhasa, as it seeks to draw more travellers to the restive Tibet region.

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