Tibetan monk stable after setting himself ablaze

By TINI TRAN, AP, March 6, 2009

BEIJING, China -- Chinese state media has confirmed that a Tibetan Buddhist monk had set himself on fire in southwest China last week, saying the man was now hospitalized in serious condition.

The report Thursday by the official Xinhua News Agency was the first confirmation of the identity and background of the 24-year-old man, identified as Tashi or Tapey, who Xinhua said had been studying at Kirti monastery in Sichuan province's Aba county.

Tibetan advocacy groups had said earlier that the young monk had set himself ablaze in an apparent protest of government restrictions on religion.

Xinhua quoted doctors at Aba's People's Hospital as saying the monk, who was brought in last Friday, is now "out of danger" and has been transferred to a hospital in the Sichuan capital of Chengdu.

"He was in a very dangerous condition when he was first sent here. More than half of his body had been burnt, and he was in very serious shock," Dr. Shen Yongcai told Xinhua. "He is out of danger now."

Tibet groups had also claimed that the man had subsequently been shot by police, an allegation local officials have denied.

On Thursday, police said that another Tibetan monk had confessed to making up and spreading the rumors that officers had been responsible for the shooting, according to Xinhua.

Jangkor, also a monk at the Kirti Monastery, told police that he lied to "create greater disturbances so as to attract attention from overseas," Xinhua reported.

The region has been sealed off to journalists and foreigners and it was not immediately possible to confirm the accounts.

Tensions have been high in Tibet and Tibetan-inhabited regions in western China in the run-up to several key anniversaries this month, including the 50th anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising during which Tibet's traditional Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile in India. This month also marks the one-year anniversary of massive anti-government protests that spread across Tibetan areas following a deadly riot in Lhasa on March 14.

Witnesses and pro-Tibetan groups say China has deployed thousands of soldiers and paramilitary forces into the region, placing it under de facto martial law, to prevent a repeat of last year's wide-scale protests.

China claims Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries and that Beijing's tight control is draining them of their culture and identity.