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Second Tibetan nun burns to death in China

By Paul Armstrong, CNN
updated 4:40 AM EDT, Fri November 4, 2011
Buddhist monks at a monastery in Shanba township, one of many in China's restive southwestern Sichuan province.
Buddhist monks at a monastery in Shanba township, one of many in China's restive southwestern Sichuan province.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Death of the nun, identified as Qiu Xiang, was reported by state-run Xinhua and exile groups
  • She is the second Tibetan woman, and sixth person overall, to die in this way since March
  • Activists say the suicides reflect an increasingly repressive environment under Beijing's control
  • China rejects accusations of oppression, saying its rule has greatly improved living standards

Hong Kong (CNN) -- A Buddhist nun in southwest China has died after setting herself on fire, the 11th Tibetan -- and second nun -- to self-immolate since March.

The death of the nun, identified as Qiu Xiang, was reported by state-run Xinhua and confirmed by exile groups.

The 35-year old set herself on fire at a road crossing in Dawu County, in the Ganzi region of Sichuan Province, the South China Morning Post said, citing Xinhua.

It was unclear why she killed herself, though Tibetan campaign groups say it was in protest against Chinese rule.

But China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed the incident related to "pro-Tibetan independence forces" overseas.

"Everyone knows that nowadays, except for the very few evil cults and extremist forces, all religions advocate respect for human life and oppose violence," said spokesperson Hong Lei.

"It is a challenge to the moral bottom line of all human beings if, instead of condemning the extreme act of self-immolation, some people are hyping or instigating it."

According to the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), which advocates Tibetan independence, Palden Choetso -- Qiu's Tibetan name -- called for freedom and the return from exile of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, as she was burning.

London-based Free Tibet also confirmed the incident.

Tibetan exiles set foot on native soil
In the footsteps of the Dalai Lama

Her body was then taken by fellow nuns into the Ganden Choeling nunnery in Tawu, the ICT said.

Six of the 11Tibetans -- all monks or former monks -- who have set themselves ablaze died from their injuries.

Most of the suicide attempts occurred in Aba Prefecture and the Kirti monastery, also in Sichuan, which has become a focal point for ethnic Tibetans angry at the erosion of their culture.

Last month, a nun in Ngaba County, Sichuan Province, became the first Tibetan woman known to have killed herself. Free Tibet said Tenzin Wangmo, 20, died outside the Dechen Chokorling Nunnery. The State Administration for Religious Affairs in Beijing told CNN they were not aware of the incident.

Activists and exiled Tibetans say the disturbing acts reflect an increasingly repressive environment under Beijing's control.

"The incidents are a clear indication of the genuine grievances of the Tibetans and their sense of deep resentment and despair over the prevailing conditions in Tibet," said new Tibetan leader in exile, Lobsang Sangay, in quotes carried by Free Tibet.

"It is therefore of the utmost urgency that every possible effort be made to address the underlying root causes of Tibetan grievances and resentment."

A statement from the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India read: "The Kashag (Cabinet) would like to make it clear that it stands in solidarity with the Tibetan people in Tibet who endure continued suppression under the Chinese authorities, whose short-sighted policies have driven till now eleven Tibetans to set themselves on fire.

"Instead of addressing the real problems that drive Tibetans to commit self-immolation, Xinhua, the official news organ of the Chinese government, blames the Tibetans-in-exile for instigating such desperate and despairing acts.

The incidents are a clear indication of the genuine grievances of the Tibetans.
Lobsang Sangay

"The Kashag strongly urges the Chinese government to stop hurling baseless allegations and to start solving the real problems. (The) People's Republic of China can do this by stopping its repressive policy on Tibet and allowing more freedom of religion and speech."

Prominent Tibetan writer and activist Tsering Woeser told CNN this kind of protest will continue as long as the Chinese government's Tibet policy remains the same.

"If there is no improvement Tibetans will feel it's better to die than be alive. They commit suicide to protest," she said.

"The international community should impose pressure and condemn the Chinese government," she added. "But so far, the pressure is not enough, the international community only appeals to Chinese government but there are no real actions such as economic boycott."

In an interview with CNN last month, Woeser said Tibetan Buddhists can't use violence against others to protest, so they harm themselves to people pay attention to their plight.

"This is not suicide. This is sacrifice in order to draw the world's attention," she said.

China rejects accusations of oppression of Tibetans, saying its rule has greatly improved living standards for the Tibetan people.

The Dalai Lama's representative signed an agreement with Beijing in 1951 to affirm China's sovereignty over Tibet but also grant autonomy to the area. A failed uprising against Beijing's rule in 1959 forced the Dalai Lama into exile.

The Dalai Lama denies seeking independence for Tibet, saying he wants genuine autonomy, under which Tibetans can make their own policies on key issues, such as religious practices.

In a 2008 uprising, violent unrest in Tibet and the subsequent military crackdown left at least 18 dead, and activists say tensions have remained high in many areas since then.

CNN's Haolan Hong and Xiaoni Chen contributed to this report.

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