BEIJING (AP) — Security forces clashed with angry Tibetans in southwestern China, shooting one person, after a man set himself on fire in the latest protest against Chinese rule, activist groups said.
Local residents began to protest Saturday after seeing police severely beat the man who set himself on fire as they put out the flames, the London-based International Campaign for Tibet said.
"Tibetans at the scene became very distressed and angry and gathered together in what seems to be an impromptu demonstration," Kate Saunders of the group wrote in an email.
Little was known about the person who set himself on fire, although the group cited its sources as saying he was a man and that he was not a monk.
It and the London-based group Free Tibet said a woman was shot during the unrest.
At least 16 Buddhist monks, nuns and other Tibetans are now believed to have set themselves on fire in the past year — including four in the past week — mostly in traditionally Tibetan areas of Sichuan province. Most have chanted for Tibetan freedom and the return of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
Woeser, a Beijing-based Tibetan poet and activist, posted accounts of the unrest on Twitter that were similar to those reported by the groups.
"A young Tibetan person self-immolated ... the local area has erupted in public protests and marches, and they have been met with military police fire and suppression. There are Tibetan casualties," she wrote. Like some Tibetans, Woeser uses just one name.
The claims could not be independently confirmed. Calls to Aba county's police bureau rang unanswered. A man who answered the phone Sunday at the Aba prefecture government said they hadn't received any reports about a self-immolation or clashes and then hung up. People answering the phones at the lower Aba county and township governments also said they had no information.
Heavy security has turned Aba and the surrounding area into a virtual restricted zone since an anti-government uprising across Tibetan communities in 2008, and foreign reporters have had little or no access.
China chooses Buddhist leaders in Tibet and wants to pick a pro-Beijing successor to the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing considers to be a separatist. China says Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for most of that time.
Chinese authorities routinely deny Tibetan claims of repression, although they have confirmed some self-immolations and accused supporters of the Dalai Lama of encouraging such acts. The Dalai Lama and representatives of the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile in India say they oppose all violence.