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Tibetans cancel New Year celebrations

By Moni Basu, CNN
updated 5:33 AM EST, Wed February 22, 2012
A worker puts up a Tibetan scroll to mark the Tibetan New Year at the Yonghegong Lama temple in Beijing, China, Tuesday.
A worker puts up a Tibetan scroll to mark the Tibetan New Year at the Yonghegong Lama temple in Beijing, China, Tuesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Tibetan government-in-exile canceled New Year celebrations
  • It asked Tibetans to remember those who "suffered" under Chinese rule
  • Tibetans all over the world will mark the day solemnly
  • 22 Tibetans have self-immolated this past year to protest China's policies

(CNN) -- Wednesday marks Losar, or the Tibetan New Year, but there will be no music, chanting, spectacular costumes or pageantry this year.

Instead, Tibetans across the world plan to observe Losar with the solemnity their government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, has proclaimed it deserves.

Lobsang Sangay, the Tibetan prime minister-in-exile, issued a statement asking Tibetans to refrain from celebration.

"But do observe traditional and spiritual rituals by going to the monastery, making offerings and lighting butter lamps for all those who have sacrificed and suffered under the repressive policies of Chinese government," Sangay said.

Sangay asked for a somber New Year because of the "grim news" that continues to stream out of Tibet, he said.

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In the past year, 22 monks, nuns and other Tibetans set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule, according to the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet.

The latest incident occurred Saturday when an 18-year-old monk self-immolated in front of a monastery in the village of Barma village in China's Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, according to a statement from the government-in-exile.

He apparently died shouting, "May His Holiness the Dalai Lama live 10,000 years!" and "Freedom for Tibet," the International Campaign for Tibet said.

The government-in-exile also said it has had news of arrests of Tibetan writers and intellectuals.

China accuses Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, for inciting unrest and trying to divide China.

But monks who spoke secretly to CNN said they want China to allow the Dalai Lama to return to a free Tibet. In their pouch, they carry a sacred keepsake of their leader.

In 1950, Chinese troops occupied Tibet, enforcing what Beijing says is a centuries-old claim over the region. Nine years later, the Dalai Lama fled to India after a failed uprising in Lhasa left 85,000 people dead.

Pro-Tibetan groups say Chinese persecution and torture has killed hundreds of thousands of Tibetans over the years. They also say Han Chinese, China's main ethnic group, have migrated to the region and turned Tibetans into a minority in their homeland.

Sangay urged Tibetans to protest non-violently and legally, especially on March 10, the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising.

"We once again fervently urge the Chinese government to give serious consideration to our legitimate demands and appeals we have made so far," the government statement said.

Sangay said he wanted to make sure Tibetan voices were heard loud and clear in Beijing.

Tibetans all over the world began posting Sangay's message on websites. In the United States, several Tibetan associations canceled Losar celebrations, one of the biggest annual festivities for Tibetans.

"It means much more than Losar," said Tsepak Rigzin, program director at the Drepung Loseling center in Atlanta.

This year, he said, Losar would truly signify unity, solidarity, compassion.

"It's a symbol of our integrity," said Rigzin, 51, who has lived in the United States since 2005. "It means sharing the suffering and pain of our brothers and sisters of Tibet."

He, like Tibetans everywhere, will begin the year 2139 with quiet contemplation -- and dreams of a homeland.

CNN's Stan Grant in Beijing contributed to this report.

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