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Rights group says 10,000 Tibetans gather around China monastery where nun set herself on fire
BEIJING (AP) ' A Tibetan rights group said Sunday that around 10,000 Tibetans were reportedly gathered around a monastery in western China where a nun set herself on fire last week in apparent protest against Chinese rule.
The 35-year-old Buddhist nun died Thursday in predominantly Tibetan Ganzi prefecture in Sichuan province. She was the 11th Tibetan monk, nun or former monk to self-immolate in western China in recent months.
New York-based Students for a Free Tibet said in an emailed statement Sunday that around 10,000 Tibetans from across Sichuan had reportedly gathered around the Tawu Nyitso monastery to pay their respects to the nun, whom they identified as Palden Choetso, while around 1,000 monks and nuns were holding prayers inside. State-run Xinhua News Agency last week identified the 35-year-old woman as Qiu Xiang.
"The streets are crawling with Chinese security personnel. A cinema hall near the monastery has been turned into an army base housing up to 2,000 troops. The whole town is under siege," Tawu Lobsang Jinpa was quoted as saying in the statement. The group identified him as a former political prisoner from Tawu who escaped to India in February.
It was impossible to verify the claims. A woman with the government of Daofu county, where the monastery is located, said she was not clear about the incident and hung up. Calls to the county's Public Security Bureau rang unanswered. Residents in the area contacted by phone said they did not see any gathering and that there was no unusual police presence.
The nine men and two women who have set themselves on fire since March were seen as having acted in protest to Chinese restrictions on the Tibetan religion and culture. At least six died of their injuries, while the condition of the others is not known.
Most ignited the flames while calling for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
China claims Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries.