A Tibetan monk set himself on fire in Qinghai on Sunday, becoming the 15th Tibetan to self-immolate on the mainland in the past year and sparking protests by hundreds of Tibetans in the process.
It was the third self-immolation by a Tibetan in 2012, following two cases near the Kirti Monastery in Aba prefecture, Sichuan, on Friday.
Xinhua reported yesterday that a monk from the Nyanmo Monastery in Darlag county died after setting himself on fire early on Sunday morning at an intersection in the town of Gyumi, the county seat.
The monk, 40-year-old Nyage Sonamdrugy, was known among local believers as the 'the Living Buddha Sopa'. His body had been returned to his relatives so they could hold a funeral, Xinhua said.
Radio Free Asia said, however, that his body was only released by police after several hundred angry Tibetans marched on the local police station to demand his remains. When their request was initially denied, they smashed the windows and door of the station. They then paraded the corpse around town.
Radio Free Asia said the monk had set himself ablaze in front of the station, shouting slogans calling for Tibet's freedom. He had earlier climbed a nearby hill and distributed leaflets saying that he was taking action 'not for personal glory but for Tibet and the happiness of Tibetans'.
He drank and threw kerosene all over his body, according to witnesses cited by the report, and his body exploded, with only the head and parts of his chest intact.
Several Darlag residents confirmed yesterday that there were mass rallies on Sunday night and yesterday morning and that police had ordered shops in the town to close yesterday. But they said they were not sure what the rallies were about.
A Han Chinese vegetable vendor working in a market on the edge of the town confirmed stores were closed for a few hours in the morning. He said when he was delivering goods to the town centre he saw a couple of hundred Tibetans, both monks and laymen, marching. He heard that a Living Buddha had died, but was not sure how.
'This is not the first time we have seen a mass protest here - the last time was in March 2008,' he said. 'But it felt bigger this time ... in 2008 the protest centred around the monastery.'
A Tibetan who owns a restaurant close to the police station said police came to him at around 10am yesterday asking him to shut down temporarily, without giving a clear indication as to when he could reopen.
Radio Free Asia said Nyage Sonamdrugy ran an old people's home and an orphanage in Darlag and as a Living Buddha (or 'Rinpoche') was the most senior monk to have self-immolated so far. Since monks, nuns and former monks started self-immolating in Tibetan regions, Beijing has blamed the 'Dalai clique' for inciting 'terrorism in disguise' that goes against Buddhist teachings.
Xinhua's report on the self-immolations in Aba cited investigators as saying that the pair were involved in thefts and had killed themselves to wash away their sins.