Tibetan Buddhist nun burns herself to death in protest at Chinese rule

  • @cliffordcoonan

The wave of protests by Tibetan Buddhists against Chinese rule continued yesterday as a nun burned herself to death at a crossroads in south-west China, the 11th self-immolation by monks or nuns this year.

The nun's death came as Lobsang Sangay, head of Tibet's government-in-exile, was visiting Washington, where he urged the United States to put more pressure on China over the protests and to seek greater access to the region.

Palden Choetso was in her thirties and was a nun at the Ganden Jangchup Choeling nunnery, in Tawu county, in China's Sichuan province. Her death was confirmed by the official Xinhua news agency, which gave her Chinese name, Qiu Xiang.

After the fire was extinguished, Ms Choetso was taken to her nunnery and died shortly afterwards, sources in the Tibetan exiles movement said.

They said the local authorities have locked down the area, which is part of the Ganzi prefecture, closing a major road in Tawu, and deploying troops to the nunnery.

Before yesterday's immolation, nine Tibetan Buddhist monks and one nun had set themselves on fire, with five dying from their injuries.

Many of the recent acts of self-immolation have taken place near Kirti monastery in Aba, which has become the focal point of Tibetan anger at what they see as efforts by China's ethnic Han majority to swamp Tibetan culture. Although Sichuan is not part of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, it has a sizeable Tibetan population.

Beijing blames the Dalai Lama for encouraging the monks and nuns in their actions, and has jailed monks who helped their colleagues to set themselves alight. The Chinese government says Tibetans enjoy religious freedom and accuses the Dalai Lama of being a dangerous separatist, who is using the self-immolations for political ends. Mr Sangay denied the Dalai Lama was behind the wave of self-immolations and described them as "desperate acts".

The Tibetan government in exile, which is based in Dharamsala, in northern India, felt solidarity with the protesters but urged the monks and nuns to stop setting themselves on fire and to join the Tibetan exile group instead, he said.

Mr Sangay took over the political leadership of the Tibetan exile government earlier this year, with the Dalai Lama saying he will limit himself to spiritual matters.

"We do not encourage protest inside Tibet, or for that matter self-immolation, because we know the consequences," Mr Sangay told a news conference. "If you protest in Tibet, more often than not you get arrested, or beaten up, sometimes tortured, sometimes you disappear, sometimes you die." The suicides were evidence of the failure of China's Tibetan policy, he said. Beijing has spent billions of pounds on building roads and railways in Tibet and boosted incomes in the desperately poor region, but has struggled to win hearts and minds there.