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China's crackdown grows as Tibetan self-immolations increase

The string of 10 recent Tibetan self-immolations – six monks, three former monks, and a nun – is unprecedented in modern Tibetan history. 

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One Tibetan businessman interviewed in the vicinity said that he appreciated the roads and offices the government built. The man, who gave his name as Tsering, said he understood the pragmatic reasons that his daughter received Tibetan language instruction at school only two or three times a week, while she was taught Mandarin Chinese every day.

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When talking about the self-immolations, however, Tsering, 29, was adamant. "The monks are asking for justice," he said.

The first self-immolation came on March 16, when a 21-year-old monk named Phuntsog lit himself aflame, apparently to mark the third anniversary of riots that struck Tibet and neighboring territories. Tibetans claim that in one incident during the 2008 disturbances, police shot 13 people dead at a demonstration in Aba.

After Phuntsog's death, six monks — including Phuntsog's brother and uncle — were sentenced to prison or labor camps, according to Free Tibet, a London-based Tibetan advocacy group.

In April, about 300 monks from Phuntsog's Kirti Monastery allegedly were taken away in trucks, prompting the United Nations to inquire about their whereabouts. The Chinese government denied that monks had disappeared from the monastery, although it did note that some were taken away for "education."

The crackdown didn't stop monks from spreading their complaints via pamphlets in the area nor did it put an end to people soaking themselves with gasoline and lighting matches; six self-immolations took place in October alone.

Many Tibetans say that the country's Han Chinese majority, with the muscle of the Communist Party behind it, essentially is occupying their lands and moving to monopolize business interests while marginalizing the Tibetan language and way of life.

The Chinese government maintains that it liberated Tibetans from a feudal existence, and now works to improve their lives with billions of dollars in infrastructure projects. Any outbursts of Tibetan rage, the government maintains, are due to outside influences personified by the Dalai Lama.

 'Terrorism in disguise?'

Speaking about the self-immolations, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a news briefing Oct. 19 that the Dalai Lama and those around him had encouraged "more people to follow suit," an action that Jiang said amounted to "terrorism in disguise."

Later in the month, the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959, said it was China's own "ruthless policy" that was to blame.

At one Tibetan monastery nestled by snow-capped hills in the region, there are no photographs of the Dalai Lama visible from outside the compound's main buildings. Police are stationed nearby.

In the living quarters of one of its senior monks, though, a large portrait of the Tibetan leader greets visitors.

The monk, whose name and location McClatchy is withholding to prevent retribution from local officials, said he'd tried last August to visit Aba, which is known in Tibetan as Ngaba.

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