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

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On Monday, a young monk from the Kirti monastery, 21-year-old Lobsang Tsultrim, set himself on fire in the region of Ngaba in Sichuan Province. Exile reports say he was still alive when taken away by a police car. Lobsang is the 27th monk from the Ngaba area to self-immolate, and the eighth from the Kirti monastery. His act took place on a street that is alternately being called “Martyrs Road” or “Heroes Road."

Dalai Lama opposed self-immolation

While the Dalai Lama has consistently opposed self-immolations as a violation on the sacredness of life, Tibetans are continuing to do it in an act seen as indicative of the depth of feeling and desperation. Self-immolations are new and not part of any previous Tibetan protest tradition.

Tibetan Buddhist leaders have described the mood inside Tibet as a life and death struggle for the future of their faith and identity, and say that time is running out.

“They are calling for Dalai Lama’s return because they are in this very serious moment, very serious, in which the Tibetan nation, identity, culture, the spiritual tradition, are all being closed down by Chinese aggression,” says Kate Saunders, the spokeswoman for International Campaign for Tibet in London. “There is a very powerful feeling that time is running out, and that the connection between the people and what the Dalai Lama represents is being broken. These young people are sacrificing out of desperation that this spiritual connection not be broken. What they are calling out as they burn is for the return of the Dalai Lama, and for freedom in Tibet.”

A year ago today, the Dalai Lama stepped down as official head of the government in exile after decades, but retains preeminence as the spiritual leader of Tibetans. In Tibetan monasteries, China continues to oversee aspects of religious instruction, control the appointment of teachers, give patriotic loyalty tests -- actions that many Tibetans protest as serious infringements by Beijing on the faith.

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