About 2,000 Tibetans in two troubled southwest Chinese provinces on Wednesday defied a security crackdown and held protests against Beijing's rule as another monk self-immolated, fueling tensions, according to local and exile sources.
Chinese security forces attempted but failed to stop the demonstrations in two counties in Qinghai province as protesters shouted slogans and carried banners calling for a "free Tibet," the release of all Tibetan political prisoners, and the return of Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, the sources said.
The crowds swelled to about 1,000 each at the peak of the protests in Nangchen (Nangqian, in Chinese) county and Tridu (Chenduo, in Chinese) county in Yulshul (Yushu, in Chinese) prefecture, the sources said, citing contacts in the two areas.
Security forces did not open fire to quell the protests in a sign of restraint following bloody violence two weeks ago when police shot and killed up to six Tibetans in separate incidents, according to rights groups.
The protests came as a Tibetan set himself ablaze in Sichuan province Wednesday in anger at Chinese rule and as Tibetans across the globe held prayers and protests in honor of compatriots who "sacrificed" their lives for the Tibetan cause, activists said.
Wednesday's self-immolation took place at a school in the main town of Ngaba county, in Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) prefecture, India-based monks Losang Yeshe and Kanyag Tsering said in a statement to RFA, citing contacts in the region.
The still-unidentified Tibetan man, who appeared to be a monk, shouted slogans before self-immolating, they said. He was immediately taken away by soldiers and police.
Part of the crowd in the protest in Nangchen county in Qinghai province's Yulshul prefecture, Feb. 8, 2012.
Twenty-one Tibetans have set fire to themselves in a wave of protests in ethnic Tibetan regions of China since March 2009 as Beijing stepped up a crackdown on monasteries.
In the protest in Nangchen on Wednesday, as many as 1,000 people, mostly laypersons in traditional dress, flocked to the county stadium under close watch by security forces.
"They chanted prayers and [shouted slogans such as] "Freedom for Tibet" and "Long live the Dalai Lama," one source from inside Tibet told RFA.
"When armed soldiers and policemen closed in, the Tibetans shouted "Kyi Hi Hi," a Tibetan battle cry in defiance," the source said.
"The soldiers and policemen then retreated but watched from a distance. There was no clash between them but the protesters remained in the stadium."
At the same time, several hundred Tibetans gathered in the main monastery in Nangchen town, chanting and tossing Tsampa [barley flour] into the air. Stopped at bridge
A group of monks at the protest march in Tridu county, Feb. 8, 2012.
In the other protest in Tridu county, about 400 monks from the Sekha monastery launched a 12 kilometer (about seven mile) "solidarity" march to Dzatoe town but were stopped by security forces halfway at a bridge, angering about 1,000 local residents who then joined the demonstration.
"Chinese [forces] pressured the monks to stop the march, and at that point around 1,000 local residents joined the protests and raised slogans for up to three hours," one local source said.
Another source said the monks had defied appeals by laypersons against proceeding with the march amid fears they would be detained.
“The Tibetan protesters shouted that they were ready to sacrifice their lives and would continue their struggle," one caller from Tibet told RFA.
The monks carried big white banners calling for the Dalai Lama's return to Tibet from exile in India and urging the Chinese authorities to release "innocent" Tibetan prisoners.
The banners, with words written in red and blue, also called on the authorities to "Respect the Tibetans—
We are one in happiness and sorrow," and "Respect the Tibetan language."
Chinese security forces later surrounded Sekha monastery and were restricting the movements of monks and other Tibetans, sources said.
Tensions have risen in the region since three Tibetans set themselves on fire in Serthar (in Chinese, Seda) county in Sichuan on Feb. 3.
Three other counties in the province—
Draggo (in Chinese, Luhuo), Serthar (in Chinese, Seda), and Dzamthang (in Chinese, Rangtang)—
were rocked by bloody protests against Chinese rule two weeks ago in which rights and exile groups believe at least six were killed and 60 injured, some critically.
Official Chinese media reported that only two Tibetans were killed in the incidents after "mobs" armed with, guns, knives, and stones attacked local police.
Telephone and other communication links to the protest areas have mostly been cut. Reported by RFA's Tibetan service. Translations by Jigme Ngapo, Karma Dorjee, Rigdhen Dolma and Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai and Richard Finney.