China rebukes monastery at heart of fiery protests


BEIJING (AP) — Chinese officials on Thursday castigated a Tibetan monastery at the center of a wave of self-immolations, saying it has been inciting the fiery protests. They also indicated that authorities will not relax controls over the region.

Wu Zegang, the governor of Aba prefecture in southwest China, said Thursday the local Kirti monastery was collaborating with exiled Tibetans, including spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, to organize locals to set themselves on fire.

Wu said authorities believe that the monastery's senior clerics persuaded others to self-immolate by saying that they would be heroes and freedom fighters and organizing monks to send money and goods to the protesters' families. Wu did not offer any concrete evidence to substantiate his claim.

More than 100 self-immolations have been reported in Tibetan areas of Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu since 2009, with many of the protesters calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, who is beloved by many Tibetans. The protests intensified in recent months as China's Communist Party leadership has been undergoing a transition.

Authorities have responded with even harder measures — criminalizing the suicides and handing down prison sentences to those they accuse of instigating the burnings. The measures have been criticized by many Western countries and human rights groups and the Dalai Lama and exiled Tibetans have said it is Beijing's repressive controls that drive the protests.

Kirti's monks have been at the forefront of unrest since Tibetan communities across western China rose up in a rebellion in 2008 that was quashed by a massive and continuing show of force. The monastery is often sealed off by tight security in times of high tension.

Wu was addressing officials and reporters at a meeting of the Sichuan provincial delegation as part of annual legislative sessions in Beijing.

Another provincial official, Zhang Dongsheng, a Tibetan whose hometown in Ganzi prefecture has also been the site of self-immolation protests, said "foreign forces" were using the self-immolations as a way to attack the ruling Communist Party.

Zhang said authorities would not ease their grip over the region's monasteries and people.

"Our struggle against the Dalai Lama is long-term and intense," Zhang said. "We cannot relax at any moment."