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Radio Free Asia

Self-immolation attempt at Tibet's Potala Palace thwarted by Chinese police

By Tashi Wangchuk and Kalden Lodoe 2022.02.26 -- A Tibetan shouted slogans and attempted to self-immolate in an apparent protest in front of the iconic Potala Palace in the Tibet regional capital Lhasa this week but was thwarted by Chinese police, sources in the region and in India told RFA Saturday.

Immediately after the incident Friday morning outside the Potala, police took away the Tibetan, whose identity, condition and whereabouts remain unknown, the sources said.

"Right after this incident took place, the Chinese police blocked all the streets in front and around Potala Palace. And today there are more Chinese soldiers deployed in front of the Potala Palace than usual," a source inside Tibet, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid potential legal danger, said Saturday.

The massive hilltop Potala that dominates the Lhasa skyline was the winter palace of historic Dalai Lamas from 1649 until 1959, when the current Dalai Lama fled to India after an uprising against Chinese rule over the formerly independent Himalayan region, triggering a crackdown in which the palace was shelled and thousands were killed by Chinese troops.

A second source from the large Tibetan exile community in India confirmed having heard of the Potala incident but also had no further details.

So far, 157 Tibetans are confirmed to have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest Chinese rule in Tibetan areas, and another eight have taken their lives in Nepal and India.

The previous report of a self-immolation was that of a 26-year-old man named Shurmo, who set himself ablaze in September 2015 in the Tibet Autonomous Region's Nagchu (Chinese, Naqu) county. His death was confirmed only in January of last year.

Friday's aborted self-immolation bid occurred in the run up to the March 10 anniversary of the 1959 rebellion, known as Tibetan National Uprising Day, a period when the Chinese government usually tightens control and surveillance.

High-technology controls on phone and online communications in Tibetan areas often prevent news of Tibetan protests and arrests from reaching the outside world.

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is reviled by Chinese leaders as a separatist intent on splitting Tibet, which was invaded and incorporated into China by force in 1950, from Beijing's control.

The Dalai Lama himself says only that he seeks a greater autonomy for Tibet as a part of China, though, with guaranteed protections for Tibet's language, culture, and religion.

Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on the region, restricting Tibetans' political activities and peaceful expression of ethnic and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA's Tibetan Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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