By Walter Jayawardhana
Two men engulfed themselves in towering flames outside a temple representing a popular tourist site in Lhasam reported Times of India quoting two US broadcasters who spoke to witnesses on Monday. This is said to be marking the most recent wave of self-immolations protesting against the Chinese rule to reach the tightly guarded Tibetan capital. Radio Free Asia launched a statement whereby the men were taken away by authorities within minutes of setting themselves on fire Sunday outside the Jokhang Temple.
There have been at least 34 immolations since March of last year to draw attention to China’s restrictions on Buddhism and to call for the return from exile of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Most have taken place in areas of China highly inhabited by Tibetans, but only one had occurred in Tibet itself and none in the capital . Protests have become rare in remote Tibet and Lhasa in particular because of the alleged tight police security that has blanketed the area ever since anti-government riots erupted in Lhasa in 2008.
Radio Free Asia cited a Tibetan living in exile saying he had heard from sources inside Tibet that huge flames had engulfed the two men and that they were believed to be seriously hurt or dead. The radio station also asserted the men in Sunday’s protest could not be identified and personal details were not immediately available.
US-funded radio broadcaster Voice of America reported that the two men worked at a Lhasa restaurant called Nyima Ling. It identified one of the men as 19-year-old Dorjee Tseten but was unable to give the name or age of the other.
A woman with the Lhasa city police denied any immolation attempts had occurred. Like many Chinese bureaucrats, she refused to give her name. Fu Jun, an official with the propaganda department of the Tibetan regional Communist Party office, claimed to be unaware of any immolations.
Radio Free Asia said Lhasa is said to have been under heavy police and paramilitary guard, leading to a very tense situation.
Chinese authorities have confirmed some of the self-immolations over the past year but not all.