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In Tibet, defiant self-immolations spread beyond monks, nuns

Yesterday, a Tibetan mother died after her self-immolation in protest of the Dalai Lama's exile and the lack of freedom in Tibet. The number of self-immolators has risen to 45 in the past 1-1/2 years.

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An exile Tibetan girl lights a candle during a candlelit vigil to remember two Tibetans who have self-immolated in Tibet, in Dharmsala, India, this August.

Ashwini Bhatia/AP

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While Chinese Olympic gold medals in London make headlines, far away, on the Himalayan roof of the world, two more young Tibetans – a mother and a monk – set themselves on fire in protest of Chinese policies on Tibet, including the lack of return of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader.

The two “self-immolations” raise to 45 the number of Tibetans setting themselves alight, most since March of 2011. The immolations started with Buddhist monks and nuns who see themselves in an increasingly desperate struggle for the ancient land and its people, and who say their Tibetan identity and faith is being stamped out by aggressive Chinese policies and actions.

Yet 13 of the self-immolations in Tibet this year suggest that ordinary Tibetans are starting to torch themselves, and that the cases appear to be spreading geographically and are less confined to a few dissident monasteries.

“The self-immolations have now jumped a number of fences. There are more of them and they are more diverse,” says Steven Marshall, a member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in Washington, who had extensive experience in Tibet in the 1980s and 1990s. “We are seeing immolations in the lay community, not only among monks and nuns where it started. It is also spreading into a greater area, not just the [Tibet Autonomous Region], but Qinghai and Gansu [provinces abutting the Tibet Autonomous Region].”

Yesterday, a mother of two, Dolkar Tso, from a farming family, set herself alight at a monastery in Gansu Province, which abuts the Tibetan Autonomous Region. She died from the flames. The International Campaign for Tibet in London cited exile sources in a statement saying she called out for the return of the Dalai Lama and for freedom in Tibet, following a pattern in other cases.

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