DHARMSALA, India (AP) – The head of Tibet’s government-in-exile blamed China on Saturday for a recent wave of self-immolations by Tibetans, saying that they have been denied the right to hold conventional protests.
Lobsang Sangay said Tibetans were left with no choice but to take extreme action by setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule. There have been 14 cases of self-immolations reported in the past 2 1/2 months to protest what Sangay called China’s suppression of Tibetans’ religion and culture.
Sangay’s statement came as Tibetans observed two significant anniversaries Saturday: the unsuccessful 1959 revolt that caused their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to flee Tibet to India, and deadly anti-government riots that rocked Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, in 2008.
Nearly 3,000 Tibetans attended a rally addressed by Sangay in the courtyard of a Buddhist monastery in Dharmsala, the seat of the government-in-exile in the northern Indian town. The Dalai Lama attended the meeting, but did not speak on the occasion.
“Long Live the Dalai Lama,” the Tibetans chanted as they later marched through the town. Some of them had “Free Tibet” painted on their cheeks and carried the Tibetan flag with a yellow border and red and blue stripes.
Hundreds of Tibetans also marched through parts of New Delhi, starting from the memorial of India’s independence leader Mohandas Gandhi. They carried banners reading “Justice has been raped in Tibet” and chanted slogans such as “What we want, we want freedom,” “People of the world, support us.”
“In actuality, Tibetans are treated as second-class citizens,” Sangay said in his speech in Dharmsala. “When Tibetans gather peacefully and demand basic rights as outlined in the Chinese constitution, they are arrested, fired upon and killed as in the Jan. 23-24 peaceful protests when Chinese were celebrating their new year.”
In January, Tibetan areas in western Sichuan province saw large demonstrations. Police fired on crowds in three separate areas, leaving several Tibetans dead and injuring dozens, according to Tibet support groups outside China.
On Saturday, London-based activist group Free Tibet and U.S. broadcaster Radio Free Asia said police had shot three Tibetans on Tuesday, killing one and wounding the others. The police had been looking for or had detained another man in connection with a Jan. 25 incident in which protesters tore down a Chinese flag at a police station in a Tibetan area of western Qinghai province, the reports said.
China blames the Tibetan leadership in exile for encouraging the self-immolations by Tibetans. Many of the protesters have been linked to a Buddhist monastery in the mountainous Aba prefecture of Sichuan province.
However, Sangay said the self-immolations were an emphatic rejection of the empty promises made by Chinese hard-liners.
Twenty-six Tibetans have committed self-immolations since 2009, he said.
He called upon Beijing to accept the Tibetans’ middle way policy, which seeks genuine autonomy for Tibetans within the framework of the Chinese constitution.
“Hong Kong and Macau have been granted high degrees of autonomy,” he said in reference to the two Chinese territories. “Despite resistance from Taiwan, China has offered Taiwan more autonomy. Why are Tibetans still not granted genuine autonomy as stipulated in the Chinese constitution?”
China’s government says the Dalai Lama seeks to destroy the country’s sovereignty by pushing independence for Tibet.
Sangay expressed his willingness to send envoys to resume dialogue with China after a gap of nearly two years, saying a peaceful resolution to the Tibet issue is in the best interest of China, the Chinese people and Tibetans.
Nine rounds of talks between Chinese officials and the Dalai Lama’s representatives have failed to produce any breakthroughs.
He also said that Tibet has become one of the most militarized areas in the region, with China stationing several army divisions and dispatching thousands of paramilitary forces there.
“A Chinese scholar recently observed there are more Chinese than Tibetans, more police than monks, more surveillance cameras than windows in Lhasa. The entire region is under undeclared martial law,” he said.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)