Tibetan Protests Against Chinese Rule in New Phase

Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, November 28, 2012

Two dozen Tibetans have set themselves on fire in western China this month in a dramatic acceleration of the protests against authoritarian Chinese rule, activist groups say.

The surge in self-immolations, along with an increase in large demonstrations, marks a new phase in the Tibetan protests.

At least 86 people have set themselves on fire since the immolations began in 2009. In a change in recent months, most self-immolators now are lay people—some of them acting together—rather than Buddhist monks and nuns who live in tightly monitored monasteries and thus can be more closely watched by authorities.

The protests have also sought to avoid direct attacks on authorities and government property, acts which in the past were used to label them as riots or terrorism, providing an excuse for greater oppression. Despite the altered approach, observers see little short-term possibility of Beijing changing its repressive policies.

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In the latest immolation, 24-year-old Kalsang Kyab doused himself with kerosene and set himself alight Tuesday in front of local government offices in Kyangtsa in Aba prefecture, a hotbed of unrest, according to London-based Free Tibet and other groups.

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On Monday, about 1,000 students at a Tsolho Medical Institute staged a bold protest about 900 kilometers (550 miles) to the north in Hainan prefecture in Qinghai province. Riot police fired shots into the air and released tear gas and beat the students with rifle butts, sending 20 students to the hospital, some with serious injuries, Free Tibet reported. {snip}

Tibetan and surrounding ethnically Tibetan regions have been closed off to most outsiders, and firsthand information from the area is extremely difficult to obtain. Authorities have not commented on the protest. Calls to the medical school rang unanswered Wednesday.

Driving the students to protest was a booklet distributed by authorities that derided the Tibetan language as irrelevant, attacked the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, and condemned the immolation protests by Tibetans as “acts of stupidity.”

The booklet is the latest in a series of perceived slights and intrusive measures by Chinese authorities that have left Tibetans feeling that the culture, language and Buddhist religion that are at the core of their identity are under threat. The feelings have also driven the immolations.

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