BEIJING (AP) — A Tibetan man in his 50s set himself on fire and died at a prominent monastery in northwestern China in the latest such protest against Chinese rule over the Himalayan region, a London-based rights group said.
Free Tibet said the man identified as Dhondup set fire to himself near the prayer hall at the remote Labrang Monastery in Gansu province Monday.
The official Xinhua News Agency quoted a provincial government official as saying a 63-year-old herdsman set himself ablaze at the monastery around 9 a.m. Monday. The report did not give the man's name or say whether he survived.
The monastery is one of the most important outside of Tibet and was the site of numerous protests by monks following deadly ethnic riots in Tibet in 2008 that were the most sustained Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in decades.
Free Tibet said Monday's self-immolation was the first to take place there, and that there have been heavy restrictions in place in the area in recent months.
Citing a witness, it said the monastery manager and other monks prevented police from taking Dhondup's body.
Calls to the government in Xiahe County, the Xiahe Communist Propaganda Department and Xiahe Public Security Bureau rang unanswered.
Dozens of Tibetans have set themselves on fire since March 2011 in ethnic Tibetan areas of China in protest over what activists say is Beijing's heavy-handed rule in the region. Many have called for the return of their spiritual leader, the exiled Dalai Lama. The government has confirmed some, but not all, of the self-immolations.
Chinese authorities routinely deny Tibetan claims of repression and have accused supporters of the Dalai Lama of encouraging the self-immolations. The Dalai Lama and representatives of the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile in India say they oppose all violence.
"Tibetan protests are escalating," Free Tibet director Stephanie Brigden said in a statement. "Dhondup is the eighth Tibetan in the last month alone who has risked his life to protest Chinese rule; seven of the eight have died."
She said China's government could recognize that Tibetan demands for freedom cannot be extinguished by force and that it "must enter into meaningful dialogue with Tibetan representatives, supported by the international community."