Two men engulfed themselves in towering flames outside a temple that is a popular tourist site in Lhasa,marking the first time a recent wave of self-immolations to protest Chinese rule has reached the tightly guarded Tibetan capital.
The official Xinhua News Agency said one of the men died and the other was hospitalized after they set themselves on fire Sunday outside the Jokhang Temple. The report quoted a local Communist Party official as blaming the incident on separatist forces.
Xinhua said the men were taken away by authorities within two minutes of setting themselves on fire.
There have been at least 34 immolations since March of last year to draw attention to China’s restrictions on Buddhism and to call for the return from exile of the Tibetan spiritual leader,the Dalai Lama. Most have taken place in heavily Tibetan areas of China,but only one had occurred in Tibet itself and none in the capital.
Chinese authorities have confirmed some of the self-immolations over the past year but not all.
Protests have become rare in remote Tibet and Lhasa in particular because of tight police security that has blanketed the area since anti-government riots erupted in Lhasa in 2008.
The latest incident occurred in the open-air Barkhor market near the temple in the centre of Lhasa,an area popular with Tibetans and tourists alike.
Radio Free Asia reported Monday that Lhasa was under heavy police and paramilitary guard following the immolations and that the situation was very tense.
Xinhua said the immolations were handled quickly and order restored. It also quoted a senior official with the regional communist government as saying it was a separatist incident.
“They were a continuation of the self-immolations in other Tibetan areas and these acts were all aimed at separating Tibet from China,” Xinhua quoted Hao Peng,secretary of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the CPC Tibet Committee,as saying in a statement Sunday.
Xinhua identified the Tibetan who died as Tobgye Tseten from Xiahe county in Gansu province and the other man as Dargye,a Tibetan from Aba county in Sichuan province.
Most of the recent immolations have taken place in Aba,home to Kirti monastery,which has seen numerous protests against the Chinese government over the past several years. Xiahe is home to the large and influential Labrang monastery and the Tibetan community there has had sporadic clashes with local authorities.
Xinhua said Dargye was in stable condition and able to speak.
US-funded radio broadcaster Voice of America said the two men worked at a Lhasa restaurant called Nyima Ling. It identified one of the men as 19-year-old Dorjee Tseten but was unable to give the name or age of the other.
China says Tibet has always been part of its territory,but many Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries until Chinese troops invaded in the 1950s.
Beijing blames the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader,the Dalai Lama,for fanning anti-government sentiment and routinely purges monasteries and nunneries,where support for the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence runs high.