Three men set themselves on fire in Beijing

From The Guardian

Three men set themselves on fire in the heart of the capital, Beijing, today, official media reported.

The men ignited a fire inside their car at 3pm on the busy junction of Wangfujing, a popular shopping street, and Chang’an Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare, which leads to Tiananmen Square.

The men’s condition is not known, the state news agency Xinhua reported, quoting a Beijing government spokesman.

Today marks the Tibetan new year, Losar, which many Tibetans have vowed not to celebrate as a sign of mourning a year after fatal riots erupted in Lhasa and protests spread across Tibetan areas.

But while Tibetans have self-immolated in the past, there is so far nothing to indicate the identity or motives of the men.

Eight years ago, five people set fire to themselves in Tiananmen Square. Chinese state television reported that they were members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, but the group denied the claim, saying the government had set up the incident to justify a crackdown.

Matt Whitticase, of the Free Tibet Campaign, said he had not heard of recent cases of self-immolation by Tibetan protesters.

Elsewhere in China, immense security marked the Tibetan new year. More paramilitary armed police have been sent to areas which experienced unrest last year and there are reports that internet and text-messaging services have been cut in some places.

Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile after a failed pro-independence uprising, as well as the one-year anniversary of the riots and protests against Chinese rule.

Chinese authorities allege that 22 people died in the disturbances, mostly at the hands of violent rioters in Lhasa, while Tibetan exiles claim that tens more died in the ensuing crackdown.

Reuters reported that in Tongren, a heavily Tibetan part of China’s Qinghai province, locals said they would not mark Losar, the first 15 days of the Tibetan new year. “There is nothing to celebrate after what happened last year,” said Zhihua, a Buddhist lama.

A school student told Reuters: “People have been going round the villages quietly spreading the word not to celebrate new year because of the 14 March incident [last year].”

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