Tibetan monk burns to death in China protest: group

BEIJING Wed Mar 16, 2011 10:25am EDT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - A Tibetan Buddhist monk burned himself to death in western China on Wednesday, triggering a street protest against government controls on the restive region, a group campaigning for Tibetan self-rule said.

The self-immolation appeared to be a small repeat of protests that gripped Tibetan areas of China in March 2008, when Buddhist monks and other Tibetan people loyal to the exiled Dalai Lama, their traditional religious leader, confronted police and troops.

The 21-year-old, named Phuntsog, was a monk in Aba, a mainly ethnic Tibetan part of Sichuan province that erupted in defiance against Chinese control three years ago.

The monk "immolated himself today in protest against the crackdown," said Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet, a London-based organization.

"He shouted some slogans about freedom when he did it," said Zorgyi, a researcher for the organization, who is based in northern India, where many exiled Tibetans live.

"We've also received widespread information about a protest with nearly one thousand monks and lay people that came after," Zorgyi said.

Police moved in to suppress the protest and arrested some monks, he said.

Repeated calls to police and government offices in Aba were not answered. One officer who answered the phone said, "Nothing is wrong."

In March 2008, Tibetan protests led by monks in Lhasa, the regional capital of Tibet proper, were suppressed by police and turned violent. Rioters torched shops and turned on residents, especially Han Chinese, who many Tibetans see as intruders threatening their culture.

At least 19 people died in the violence in Lhasa, most of them Han Chinese. Pro-Tibet groups abroad say more than 200 people were killed in a subsequent crackdown.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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