Two men engulfed themselves in towering flames outside a temple that is a popular tourist site in Lhasa, marking the first time a recent wave of self-immolations to protest Chinese rule has reached the tightly guarded Tibetan capital, AP reports.
One man died and the other was hospitalized after they set themselves on fire Sunday, May 27, outside the Jokhang Temple, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The report quoted a local Communist Party official as blaming separatist forces, an accusation it often makes against Tibetan exiles who support the Dalai Lama.
Xinhua said the two men were taken away by authorities within two minutes of setting themselves on fire.
Protests have become rare in remote Tibet and Lhasa in particular because of tight police security that has blanketed the area since anti-government riots erupted in Lhasa in 2008.
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 heavily Tibetan areas of China, but only one had occurred in Tibet itself and none in the capital.
Chinese authorities have confirmed some of the self-immolations over the past year but not all.
The twin immolations in the heart of the Tibetan capital are certain to embarrass the region's communist leadership, who have pledged to prioritize social stability and ethnic unity. That mandate is especially pressing this year as China prepares for a once-a-decade leadership transition in the fall and doesn't want the occasion undermined.
The immolations are also likely to prompt tough, new restrictions on Tibetan social gatherings and religious activities in Lhasa, as they have elsewhere.
Radio Free Asia reported Monday that Lhasa was under heavy police and paramilitary guard following the immolations and that the situation was very tense.