Mar 262012
Authors: Los Angeles Times Mark Magnier

NEW DELHI — A Tibetan set himself on fire Monday before running several hundred feet down a busy New Delhi street, suffering critical burns. The incident came just ahead of a visit to India by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The protester, identified by Tibetan activists as Janphel Yeshi, 27, attempted the self-immolation at Jantar Mantar, an open area where rallies and demonstrations are often held. Media reports, citing witnesses, said Yeshi yelled as he ran along the road dressed in a sweater and dark trousers, black smoke pouring from his hair.

“Basically he was on fire for almost 10 minutes before the police arrived,” said Rinzin Choedon, a chapter coordinator with Students for a Free Tibet, an activist group. “Personally, I’m totally against this sort of immolation. Our struggle is not just for today or tomorrow. If we lose our human power and resources, how can we continue the struggle?”

Tibet has been a vassal state of China for much of its history. The Chinese military took control in 1950, leading to the exile of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, nine years later.

Many Tibetans in China bridle at Chinese rule, arguing that their religion, culture and traditions are being systematically smothered by Beijing under policies aimed at relocating large numbers of Han Chinese to the plateau.

This is the second attempted self-immolation in New Delhi, which is home to thousands of Tibetans who have crossed over the Himalayan mountains from China. In November, a man suffered minor burns when he tried to set himself alight outside the Chinese Embassy before police doused the flames.

Hu is scheduled to arrive in the Indian capital Wednesday to attend a summit on the so-called BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Since the beginning of 2011, more than two dozen Tibetans, including many Buddhist monks and nuns, have reportedly set themselves ablaze in the Tibetan area of China to protest Beijing’s rule.

Some activists described Yeshi as unemployed, a resident of the main Tibetan exiles’ neighborhood in Delhi who fled China in 2005. Others said he did odd jobs at a small monastery. He reportedly had been planning the protest for days, arriving at Jantar Mantar with a bottle of kerosene he poured over himself.

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