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CHINA: Teenaged Tibetan monks fire up protests

September 26, 2011 |  7:00 pm

REPORTING FROM BEIJING -- Two teenaged Buddhist monks set themselves on fire on Monday near a remote monastery in Sichuan province that has become the new epicenter for the long-running protest over Chinese policies towards Tibet.

Tibetan exile groups said that the monks, identified as Lobsang Kelsang and Lobsang Kunchok, 18 or 19-years-old, shouted, "Long live the Dalai Lama" and "We want religious freedom in Tibet" in a county market before lighting the fires.

The Chinese official Xinhua news agency said in a brief report that police rescued the monks and took them to the hospital, although the exile groups said that one might have died. Kelsang is said to be related (some reports said brother and others cousin) to a young monk, Phuntsog, from the same monastery who killed himself in March, setting off what are now developing into a deadly pattern of copycat immolations.

The self-immolations promise to ratchet up the tension in the already volatile region and move the conflict from Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, to Sichuan. A few weeks ago, three Kirti monks were handed prison sentences of between 10 and 13 years for "intentional homicide" in failing to stop Phuntsog from killing himself.

"Suicide is seen as the worst kind of taking of life and prohibited according to Tibetan Buddhist principles, so their actions are a measure of the anguish these young monks feel," said Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, in a statement on Monday.

Tibetan monks are under pressure from China’s Communist Party to renounce faith in the Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader, and to attend "patriotic education" classes.

Meanwhile, the war of words continues: The Dalai Lama on Saturday released statement saying he intended to leave a “clear written instructions” on how he will be reincarnated -- but not until he reaches his 90th birthday. The Dalai Lama is now 76.

In retort, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Monday reminded reporters at a press conference that it is prohibited to be reincarnated in China without the blessing of the government.

"The title of the Dalai Lama is conferred by the central government and is otherwise illegal," Hong said.

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-- Barbara Demick

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