No New Year celebrations for Tibetans in center of unrest

Mon Feb 11, 2013 7:24am EST
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By Ben Blanchard

XIAHE, China (Reuters) - Tibetans in a northwest part of China which has been a focus of self-immolation protests against Chinese rule marked a low-key lunar New Year on Monday, with many saying celebrations were inappropriate while the burnings continued.

At least 20 people have set themselves on fire in the region around Xiahe in Gansu province over the last year, according to exiles and rights groups. Xiahe is home to a large ethnically Tibetan population and also to the monastery at Labrang, one of the most important centers for Tibetan Buddhism.

The Tibetan lunar new year is supposed to be a time for celebration, but many Tibetans who spoke to Reuters in Xiahe said there would be no entertainment this year.

"It really isn't appropriate because of the self-immolations. So we're not marking the new year," said a Tibetan man who gave his name as Dorje. "In Tibet you don't celebrate new year if you are in mourning."

Police have erected road blocks into the town, nestled in a scenic valley some four hours drive from the provincial capital Lanzhou, to keep outsiders from entering.

Nearly 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest against Chinese rule since 2009, with most of them dying.

In the past few months, the government has begun a new tactic to discourage the protests, detaining and jailing people it deems to have incited the burnings.

The latest detentions have taken place in Gansu's neighboring province of Qinghai, where police last week detained 70 "criminal suspects", 12 of whom were formally arrested, meaning they will be charged.   Continued...

Hand prints are seen on a wall at Labrang Monastery during the Tibetan new year, in Xiahe county, Gansu Province, February 11, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Barria