Chinese security forces are believed to have shot and killed an elderly Tibetan woman on Saturday during a confrontation in southwestern Sichuan province following a self-immolation protesting Chinese rule, according to advocacy groups and exile sources.
At least one other person was also shot and several others were injured, some seriously, in the clash between hundreds of Tibetan protesters and police, rights groups said.
The clash occurred after a Tibetan man set himself on fire and possibly died in restive Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) prefecture.
"When he was raising slogans and walking with his body being burned, the police intervened and severely assaulted him and took him away," a source in Ngaba told RFA.
"At that time, the Tibetans who were in the street [in Ngaba town] tried to block him from being taken away [and they] attacked police with stones and sticks," the source said. Many believe the man had died.
Tibet's exile government, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), said that "approximately 700 individuals from the local community surrounded the police station," demanding that the man's body be released.
"Following the refusal of the police to do so, a confrontation ensued and an elderly Tibetan woman was reportedly shot dead by the police," the CTA said in a statement from its office in Dharamsala, India.
Police were believed to have used tear gas to disperse the protesting crowd, rights groups said.
London-based advocacy group Free Tibet confirmed that "at least one woman has been shot" and that "further unconfirmed reports allege that many people have been shot."
The Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said that according to sources in exile, at least two Tibetans were shot in the confrontation.
"Several are believed to be seriously injured," it said, adding that reports that a Tibetan woman had died could not be fully confirmed.
The ICT, citing a Tibetan from the Amdo region now in exile who spoke to sources in Ngaba, said the Tibetans launched the protests after witnessing police allegedly torturing the man who self-immolated.
"Many people witnessed the violent treatment of police towards the Tibetan who self-immolated and were very angry. We heard that police were beating him with a stick studded with nails," the Tibetan from Amdo was quoted as saying.
The Free Tibet group also said it had received various reports that several Tibetans had been injured, possibly severely.
Some Tibetan sources said a woman had died, it said.
An eyewitness described the situation as "terrifying" as Chinese authorities used “a strong gas” on the crowd, Free Tibet said.
“Many had fallen to the ground” and people were beaten, according to the eyewitness. An uncertain number of people are believed to have been detained.
The self-immolation on Saturday was the 16th case since March of last year amid growing tensions in Tibetan regions of China where people have been protesting against Chinese rule and calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader.
Eleven of the self-immolations occurred in Ngaba.
Stephanie Brigden, Director of Free Tibet said the latest incident has "terrified" the people of Ngaba.
“There have been large numbers of Chinese security forces, including the paramilitary People’s Armed Police, deployed there since the first self-immolation last year. Locals are frightened about how the situation will be resolved and there are rising concerns over further injuries or fatalities,” she said.
A woman from the Ngaba traffic police told Agence France-Presse by telephone that it was normal to have more police on the street at this time of year.
"It is getting closer to Spring Festival and we do have police on the street. For the same reason, there are less tourists. But we have normal order here," she said, declining to give her name
The ICT said that as of late Saturday, Tibetans were still gathered in Ngaba and "there are serious fears of further escalation and repercussions for Tibetans in the area."
The CTA and ICT on Saturday appealed to the international community to press the Chinese government from using any further violence and to practice restraint.
The CTA also requested the international community, the United Nations, and "liberal Chinese intellectuals" to send observers "to assess the current ground reality."
The Chinese authorities "must take full responsibility" for the self-immolations, it said, adding that it is within Beijing's power "to end these unfortunate incidents by adopting liberal policies for Tibet and Tibetan people."
Tensions in the Tibet Autonomous Region and in Tibetan-populated areas in China's provinces have not subsided since anti-China protests swept through the Tibetan Plateau in March 2008.
Chinese authorities have blamed the Dalai Lama for the tense situation, saying he is encouraging the self-immolations, which run contrary to Buddhist teachings.
But the Dalai Lama blamed China's "ruthless and illogical" policy toward Tibet.
He called on the Chinese government to change its "repressive" policies in Tibet, citing the crackdown on monasteries and policies curtailing the use of the Tibetan language.
Reported by RFA's Tibetan service. Translated by Karma Dorjee Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.