BEIJING (Reuters) - Tibetan monks in a restive area of western China took to the streets calling for more religious freedom after they were banned from holding a traditional New Year’s prayer ceremony on Sunday, activists said.
About 50 monks demonstrated outside the Sey Monastery in an ethnic Tibetan part of Sichuan province that was roiled by violent protests last year and where a monk set himself on fire on Friday, the Students for a Free Tibet group said.
Earlier, a large group of monks had streamed into their main temple hall to hold banned Monlam Chenmo prayers, a key part of ceremonies to mark the Tibetan New Year, but those were broken up, said the group’s executive director Lhadon Tethong.
As they left the hall some went onto the street where they shouted slogans calling for religious freedom. Police stopped the protests, the monastery is now sealed and there is a heavy police presence, Tethong said, citing witnesses.
Reuters contacted several local residents but was unable to confirm the protest.
Many Tibetans have skipped traditional celebrations like fireworks and new decorations as a low-key way of marking the anniversary of a wave of unrest that spread across ethnic Tibetan areas of China last year.
But small demonstrations have flared up again in some areas.
On Friday, a young man in monk’s robes set himself on fire after walking out of the Kirti monastery, just a few kilometres from the Sey monastery, State-run China Radio International reported, quoting Shi Jun, head of the local branch of the Communist Party.
Activist groups said the monk was carrying a Tibetan flag with a picture of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. Gunshots were heard after he was surrounded by police.
Next month also marks the 50th anniversary of the exile of the Dalai Lama, following a failed insurrection against China, and there is intense security across Tibet itself and many neighbouring areas with ethnic Tibetans.
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