Tibetan protestor dies following self-immolation

Tibetans offer prayers near mock coffins to represent the victims of self-immolation during a rally in China. (Diptendu Dutta, AFP)

Tibetans offer prayers near mock coffins to represent the victims of self-immolation during a rally in China. (Diptendu Dutta, AFP)

A Tibetan man died after self-immolating on Saturday, China's state media said, the seventh person to set themselves on fire in the last week as the ruling Communists gather for a leadership transition.

The 18-year-old set himself ablaze in front of a monastery in northwestern China's Gansu province, state-run Xinhua news agency said, the latest incident to highlight simmering desperation in Tibetan areas.

Self-immolations to protest against Chinese rule of the Tibetan heartland have occurred since 2009 – 69 people have set themselves on fire, of whom 54 died, the India-based Tibetan government-in-exile had said before the latest incident.

But the immolations have gained pace in recent months and particularly in the past week as the Communist Party opened a sensitive congress on Thursday that will end next week with a once-a-decade transition of power in the party.

The Communists, who face widespread social unrest across the country, particularly in minority areas, have sought to project an image of national unity under the Communist Party banner during the highly stage-managed gathering.

The escalating protests have been aimed at undercutting the facade, according to representatives of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India.

In the latest incident, a man identified as Gonpo Tsering set himself alight on Saturday afternoon in Gansu province's Tibetan autonomous prefecture of Gannan, Xinhua reported.

Other self-immolations since Wednesday have included an 18-year-old man who did so outside a monastery in Qinghai province and a 23-year-old woman who died after setting herself alight in the area, the exiled government said.

It also said a trio of young monks set themselves on fire Wednesday in a Tibetan area of Sichuan province, leaving one dead and the others injured, while another burning took place in Tibet itself.

Local residents and overseas Tibetan rights groups have said thousands of Tibetans amassed in streets in the city of Tongren in Qinghai province in the past two days to demand an end to Chinese repression.

The residents and groups said Chinese police responded by ramping up the security presence in the area.

Tibetan separatists
At the end of the congress next week, Chinese President Hu Jintao is widely expected to hand leadership of the party to Vice President Xi Jinping after ten years in power.

On the congress's sidelines Friday, officials from the Tibetan Communist Party angrily denounced the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and overseas Tibetan "separatists" for orchestrating the immolations to breed unrest.

"The Dalai Lama clique and overseas Tibetan separatists have been sacrificing other people's lives for their own secret political aims," said Losang Gyaltsen, vice chairperson of the Tibet region's government.

He also said authorities in Tibet were ramping up ID checks in the region to thwart further immolations.

Tibetan anger at Beijing's control has simmered for decades but burst into violent rioting against Chinese rule in the Tibet regional capital Lhasa and across the Tibetan heartland in southwestern China in March 2008.

The violence left 20 people dead, according to the government, while exiled Tibetans put the figure at 203, and prompted a massive security clampdown across Tibetan areas that remains to this day.

Many Tibetans accuse China of cultural, religious and political oppression. They are also angered by Beijing's repeated vitriol directed at the Dalai Lama, who is deeply revered by Tibetans.

China insists most Tibetans are happy and touts its efforts to bring economic development to the region.

Despite the coming leadership change, political analysts say no rethink of Tibet policy is expected as Beijing fears any hint of indecision could further embolden restive minority groups. – Sapa-AFP.

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