Tibetan survives fiery protest

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 December, 2011, 12:00am

A former Buddhist monk set himself on fire in Tibet on Thursday but has survived, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet group said.

His protest came shortly after the mainland's top police chief visited a predominantly Tibetan area in Sichuan where there have been a series of self-immolations this year.

If the incident is confirmed, the protest by Tenzin Pluntsog, a former monk in his 40s originally from the Karma monastery in Chamdo prefecture - the scene of a reported explosion in October followed by a security forces crackdown - would be the 12th self-immolation by Tibetans to protest against what they see as repressive Chinese rule.

It would also be the first self-immolation to occur in the Tibet Autonomous Region - the previous 11 protests this year were all in Tibetan areas of Sichuan. The Dalai Lama has blamed the extreme protests on what he says are Beijing's hardline policies in Tibetan areas.

Repeated calls to the local Communist Party branch and public security bureau in Chamdo went unanswered yesterday, but were met with recorded messages urging national unity and obedience to the party's leadership.

Meanwhile, Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu's recent visit to Aba prefecture - where most of the self-immolations have taken place at the Kirti monastery - is being seen by observers as a sign of the central government's anxiety over anti-Chinese sentiment.

In his five-day tour to Sichuan, which ended on Wednesday, Meng visited People's Liberation Army soldiers and police 'on the front line of stability maintenance' in Aba, praising them as 'a team of fighters who safeguard social harmony and stability', a statement on the ministry's website said yesterday, without mentioning the self-immolations.

'Stability maintenance', in official language, often refers to government crackdowns on protests and other activities seen as threatening social stability.

Meng also met monks at the Kirti monastery, praising Tibetan Buddhism's contribution towards national unity and urging them to promote patriotism, the ministry said.

Tsering Woeser, a Beijing-based Tibetan writer, said that although Meng appeared to be courteous and cordial, a visit from China's top police chief would have the inevitable effect of intimidating local Tibetans. 'A visit by someone in his position is intimidating for the ordinary folks, but is a morale boost for the police,' she said.

Many anti-government protests have occurred in Aba over the past few years, led by monks loyal to the Dalai Lama. But Professor Robert Barnett, a Tibet scholar at Columbia University in New York, said the latest self-immolation was significant as it occurred at Chamdo, where monks were not followers of the Dalai Lama's school of Buddhism. Monks at the local Karma monastery, founded in the 12th century by the first Karmapa Lama, follow the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. 'It indicates that the opposition to the state is not limited to the immediate followers of the Dalai Lama,' he said.

There were unconfirmed reports of a bomb explosion at a government building in Chamdo on October 26.