Tibetan protests: Qinghai immolation sparks mass protest

Monks and other people praying [Picture from Free Tibet campaign] Activists say thousands of monks and civilians protested

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Crowds of Tibetans gathered for the funeral of a farmer who burned himself to death in China, sparking a stand-off with police, activists have said.

Sonam Thargyal, 44, was the second person to set himself alight this week in Rebkong county, Qinghai province.

Rights groups said truckloads of armed police arrived in Rebkong, but withdrew after a confrontation with mourners.

The UK-based Free Tibet group said it was one of the largest protests by Tibetans since 2008.

The group said thousands of people had attended the funeral, and quoted an eyewitness saying: "This is the biggest gathering of people I have ever seen in this place. People are pouring in from the villages."

US-based Radio Free Asia quoted a Tibetan source as saying 7,000 people had come to Rebkong (Tongren in Chinese).

"Police and paramilitary forces did surround the monastery and tried to intervene but when the Tibetan crowd swelled, they withdrew," the source said.

Activists say 30 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in the past year, many of them monks, in protest at Beijing's rule.

Most of the self-immolations have been carried out in Sichuan province.

Little unrest has been reported from Qinghai, but analysts say there have been several large protests since early February.

Activists accuse the communists of suppressing Tibetan religion and culture.

But Beijing argues that it has brought wealth and modernity to a place that was once a rural backwater.

Activists say Sonam Thargyal was a close friend of a monk who set himself on fire in the same town earlier this week.

The monk is believed to be alive but critically ill.

The farmer apparently shouted slogans in support of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama before setting fire to himself.

Activist groups circulated images of the man's funeral, showing a badly burnt corpse draped in funeral robes, surrounded by crowds of mourners.

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