ROUNDUP: Monk sets fire to himself as Tibet protests spread

Monk sets fire to himself as Tibet protests spreadBeijingĀ  - A Tibetan Buddhist monk set fire to himself on Friday after Chinese authorities prevented him from observing a traditional prayer festival, the London-based Free Tibet Campaign reported.

The monk poured petrol over himself and set light to it after walking from the Kirti monastery into the nearby centre of Aba town in the south-western province of Sichuan, said Matt Whitticase of the Free Tibet Campaign.

"While he was walking, he was shouting and holding aloft a Tibetan flag with a picture of the Dalai Lama on it," Whitticase told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa by telephone.

"As soon as he set himself alight, he was immediately surrounded by armed police," he said.

Whitticase said witnesses reported hearing three gunshots.

The monk, identified by the name Tarbe, reportedly fell to the ground and police put out the flames and took him away in a van.

"We don't know whether the monk is alive or dead," he said.

New York-based Students for a Free Tibet said the monk was shot in the incident.

The two reports said the self-immolation followed the turning away of hundreds of Kirti monks from a locked prayer hall earlier on Friday, despite orders from officials and the abbot to stay away.

"That a young monk felt compelled to self-immolate in protest shows that China's repression in Tibet is driving Tibetans to the brink," Lhadon Tethong, Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet said in a statement.

An earlier report by US-based Radio Free Asia said paramilitary police sealed off a monastery in the nearby province of Qinghai on Friday after more than 100 Tibetan monks staged a protest outside local government offices.

The monks from Lutsang monastery marched to the offices in Guinan county (Mangra in Tibetan), issued a demand for greater government understanding and held a
30-minute candlelit vigil, local residents and a former monk told the broadcaster.

The brief protest took place early Wednesday morning, on the first day of the traditional Tibetan lunar new year festival, or Losar, the report said.

Several other small protests were reported in Tibetan areas this month.

Chinese authorities have increased security in many Tibetan areas in the run-up to the anniversaries of widespread rioting last year and the 50th anniversary of the flight into exile of the Dalai Lama.

Whitticase said the recent protests "show the depth of resentment" of Tibetans and suggest that a protest movement could escalate.

"Tibetans are resisting peacefully and those acts of resistance are beginning to spread," he said.

Many monks in Tibetan areas of China also appear to have heeded calls by Tibetan exile groups to boycott this year's Losar celebrations.

Last year's protests began in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, on March 10, the 49th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

The government said 19 people were killed in the rioting but the Tibetan government-in-exile said up to 200 people were killed, most of them Tibetans shot by Chinese paramilitary police.

Last week China said 76 people were sentenced to prison for their role in the Lhasa rioting. (dpa)