BEIJING (AP) — A young mother and a student have become the latest people to set themselves on fire in protest against Chinese rule in Tibetan areas, a U.S. broadcaster said Monday.
U.S. government-backed Radio Free Asia said the 32-year-old mother and the female student died after separately immolating in different provinces over the weekend.
The student set herself ablaze Saturday at a vegetable market in Gansu province's Maqu county and died at the scene, the report said, without giving the girl's name or age.
Chinese market vendors threw stones at the girl's burning body, the broadcaster said, citing an unidentified Tibetan exile with connections to the community in Maqu. It didn't say why they attacked her.
The girl was described as a middle school student, but it was unclear whether she was in regular middle school, where students range from 13 to 16 years old, or senior middle school, where students can be up to 19. Calls to local Maqu schools rang unanswered.
On Sunday, a woman identified only as Rinchen set herself on fire in front of a police station by the main gate to the Kirti Monastery in Aba prefecture in Sichuan province. Radio Free Asia said she was a mother of three young children. A report Sunday by the London-based Free Tibet group said Rinchen had four children.
Radio Free Asia reported that Rinchen called for the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet and freedom for Tibet as she set herself alight, quoting an exiled Tibetan monk in India, Kanyak Tsering.
Tibetan areas are mostly off-limits to foreign media and it was not possible to immediately confirm the claims.
A woman who answered the phone at the local Communist Party propaganda office in Aba declined to comment or give her name and referred calls to provincial authorities, who could not immediately be reached. A police official in Maqu said she was unaware of the report involving the student and hung up.
More than 20 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in the last year to protest what they say are harsh Chinese policies that do not allow them to freely practice their religion.
The reported deaths comes on the eve of the opening of China's annual legislative session, where the government has minority groups dress in traditional costumes to show national unity.
March is also a sensitive time for Tibet, marking several anniversaries, including that of the unsuccessful revolt against China that caused Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to flee in 1959, and deadly anti-government riots that rocked Lhasa in 2008.
Free Tibet director Stephanie Brigden said Rinchen's self-immolation was the result of repression and attempts to assimilate Tibetans into Han Chinese culture.
"Tibetans are living under de facto martial law. China's response to protests — which are increasingly widespread — has been to intensify repression and surveillance, pushing Tibet deeper into crisis," she said in a statement.
China says it treats minority groups such as Tibetans fairly, and pours tens of billions of dollars into improving living conditions in their areas. The government has also accused the Dalai Lama and overseas Tibetans of being behind the protests and self-immolations.
Kirti has become the center of self-immolation protests against Chinese rule, and many of the nearly two dozen Tibetans who set themselves on fire in the past year were monks or former monks from the area.
Rights groups say there have been several teenagers among the more than 20 Tibetans who have set themselves on fire over the past year, including a 17-year-old monk who survived and an 18-year-old nun who died of her injuries.