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Last updated: January 25, 2013 3:17 pm
Tibet’s exiled government has appealed to its people to stop committing suicide by burning themselves alive following a surge of self-immolations in recent months in protest against China’s occupation of the region.
In 2012 alone, 83 Tibetans killed themselves in this way – 28 of them in November – according to a statement from Lobsang Sangay, political leader, issued by the office of the Dalai Lama, the veteran spiritual leader, who lives in exile in neighbouring India. Three more died in January, with the latest death being that of Kunchok Kyab, 26, a few days ago, he said.
Self-immolation as a form of protest was unheard of in Tibet until 2010 but since then nearly 100 Tibetans, most of them young and some still in their teens, have set themselves alight.
The statement called on Tibetans to mourn the dead by cancelling celebrations for Losar, the Tibetan new year, on February 11, and restrict activities at that time to religious rites.
“Kindly pray for all who have sacrificed their lives and for all who continue to suffer in occupied Tibet,” said Mr Sangay in the statement. “The Central Tibetan Administration continues to appeal to Tibetans to not undertake drastic actions and still self-immolations persist in Tibet. The universal demands of the Tibetans have been the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet and freedom for Tibetans.”
China’s growing power has made it increasingly hard for the Dalai Lama to travel and speak freely, especially in Asian countries anxious not to offend Beijing.
Mr Sangay called on China to allow free access to Tibet for the media and foreign observers and promised further international efforts to lobby peacefully for the Tibetan cause. “The responsibility as well as the solution for the current crisis in Tibet lies with the Chinese government.”
The Chinese government blames the Dalai Lama and his “clique” for masterminding the self-immolations, which have spread through many areas where Tibetans form a majority of the population.
In an apparently new tactic to tackle the protests Chinese police have started in recent weeks to arrest Tibetans accused of encouraging others to self-immolate.
Last week, seven Tibetans were arrested on charges of “organising” a self-immolation and on Thursday Chinese state media arrested another man for allegedly encouraging a monk to set himself on fire.
Many of the protesters who have carried out the self-immolations have been monks or nuns and virtually all have yelled slogans as they burnt calling for the end to Chinese rule and the return of the Dalai Lama to his homeland.
The People’s Liberation Army of China invaded Tibet in 1950 and the Dalai Lama fled over the Himalayas to India in 1959 following a failed uprising.
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