KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — A Tibetan man who set himself on fire in Nepal’s capital in the latest in a string of self-immolations protesting China’s rule over Tibet has died at a hospital, police said Thursday.
The man died Wednesday night, hours after he self-immolated, police spokesman Keshav Adhikari said. Police are still trying to identify the man, who appeared to be about 21 years old, and no one has claimed the body yet, he said.
Nepalese authorities have stepped up patrols and surveillance in areas of Katmandu where Tibetan refugees live to try to stop such protests from taking place again, Adhikari said. Dozens of police officers in riot gear guarded Tribhuwan University Teaching Hospital, where the man died.
The man doused himself with gasoline, set himself ablaze and chanted anti-China slogans as he ran down a street near the Boudhanath stupa in the northeastern outskirts of Katmandu.
The dramatic protest marked the 101st time since 2009 that a Tibetan monk, nun or layperson set themselves on fire, according to officials from the Tibetan exile government, based in India. The protesters are calling for Beijing to allow greater religious freedom and the return from exile of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who lives in India.
Witnesses saw the man enter a cafe in Katmandu’s Boudhanath district — home to many Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries — and ask to use the bathroom. After spending some time there, he went into the street and lit himself on fire.
He ran a few steps, covered in flames and chanting slogans against China, before collapsing in front of the mammoth Boudhanath stupa, one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the country, surrounded by prayer wheels and decorated with colorful streams of flitting prayer flags.
Wednesday was one of the most important days of the Losar festival, which is celebrated by the Tibetan community. Many Tibetans in Nepal visit Boudhanath for the event.
Thousands of Tibetan exiles live in Nepal and occasionally protest against China. The Nepalese government has banned such demonstrations, saying it cannot allow any activities against friendly nations to take place.
Nepal also allows Tibetans to pass through Nepal, traveling from their homeland to Dharmasala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives and the exile government is based.
Communist troops occupied the Himalayan region of Tibet in 1951. Beijing says it has been part of China for centuries, but Tibetans say it was independent for much of that time. The Dalai Lama fled the region in 1959 as Chinese troops crushed protests against Communist rule.