Thousands attend India funeral of Tibetan activist

Mar 30, 2012, 11:09 AM

Associated Press

DHARMSALA, India (AP) – Thousands of emotional Tibetan exiles chanted prayers and shouted slogans in northern India on Friday as they attended the funeral of a man who set himself on fire in protest of China’s rule of his homeland.

Jamphel Yeshi’s coffin was first placed on a specially designed stage outside the Tsuglakhang temple in the hill town of Dharmsala, the exiled community’s headquarters. A Tibetan flag covered the wooden coffin and exiles threw ceremonial silk scarves _ a traditional Himalayan offering of respect _ on top of it.

The 27-year-old set himself on fire on Monday and succumbed to his wounds on Wednesday. He was protesting ahead of a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao, who was in New Delhi for a summit with the leaders of India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa.

Yeshi’s funeral began with the Tibetan national anthem, followed by prayers.

“How many Tibetan lives have to be lost before the Tibetan issue is resolved?” Penpa Tsering, the speaker of the Tibetan government-in-exile, said to the crowd.

Later, an ambulance covered in Tibetan scarves and portraits of Yeshi carried his body to a local crematorium, where traditional Tibetan Buddhist rites were performed.

A large, emotional crowd followed the vehicle, chanting prayers and shouting slogans such as “May Martyr Jamphel Yeshi’s name be immortal” and “What do we want? We want freedom!”

Monks chanted prayers as his body was brought to rest on a platform at the crematorium. An attendant poured clarified butter and Tibetan aromatic herbs on the body, which was covered by a white sheet. The pyre was lit by a senior member of the Tibetan Youth Congress.

About 30 self-immolations have occurred over the past year in ethnic Tibetan areas of China in protest of Beijing’s heavy-handed rule in the region.

Beijing has blamed the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India for decades, for inciting the self-immolations, and has called the protesters’ actions a form of terrorism. But the Dalai Lama says they are the result of China’s repressive policies in Tibet.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Thousands attend India funeral of Tibetan activist