Police Shoot Tibetan Monk Who Set Self on Fire

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By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 28, 2009

BEIJING, Feb. 27 -- A young Tibetan monk was shot by Chinese police after he set himself on fire Friday, the third day of the Tibetan New Year, at a market in Sichuan province's Aba prefecture, Tibetan activist groups said, citing eyewitnesses.

Many Tibetans this year are avoiding celebrating the New Year or are instead using the 15-day holiday to commemorate those killed in deadly riots in Lhasa last March. Chinese authorities, determined to avoid a recurrence of the violence, have sharply increased security patrols, detentions and so-called reeducation campaigns. They are especially nervous about March 10, the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising, which Chinese troops forcibly suppressed shortly before the Dalai Lama fled into exile and Beijing imposed its own government in Tibet.

Witnesses told the activist groups that the monk's protest came shortly after he and about 1,000 other monks were refused entry to the main prayer hall at the Kirti Monastery in Aba because local authorities had forbidden observation of Monlam, a traditional prayer festival held after Losar, as the New Year is known. In defiance of the order, the monks sat down outside to begin their prayers about 1 p.m. while older monks pleaded with them to disperse, according to Students for a Free Tibet and the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet.

The monks complied, but then a monk in his 20s named Tapey came out of the monastery, took out a homemade flag bearing a photograph of the Dalai Lama and at 1:40 p.m. walked to a nearby street market. He had doused himself with oil by the time he reached an intersection in the market, where he set himself on fire, the activist groups said.

Witnesses said police then fired three shots at Tapey. At the first shot, he fell, said Kate Saunders, a spokeswoman for the International Campaign for Tibet, and officials removed him from the scene.

Eyewitnesses said they believed he was dead, but his condition has not been confirmed.

Phones at the public security bureau and government offices in Aba county were not answered Friday night and early Saturday. A doctor at Aba Hospital who gave his surname as Luo said, "Even we don't know where the monk is. Hospital officials had a meeting and told us not to say anything."

After the incident, 500 monks from the monastery immediately began funeral rites for the monk.

A Chinese employee of an Internet cafe surnamed Mu said the streets of Aba were largely empty, except for armed policemen. Shops have been closing earlier than usual, , he said.

The Kirti Monastery in Sichuan has links to the Kirti Monastery in Dharmsala, India, where monks said eyewitnesses in Tibet had reported the self-immolation and the shooting, the activist groups said.

Dozens of Tibetans from in and around Aba prefecture were killed last year.

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