Tibetan lights self on fire in anti-China protest

A Tibetan exile man, identified as Jampa Yeshi, runs engulfed in flames after self-immolating during a demonstration in New Delhi, India, March 26, 2012. AP Photo/Manish Swarup

(AP) NEW DELHI - A Tibetan exile lit himself on fire and ran shouting through a demonstration in the Indian capital Monday, just ahead of a visit by China's president and amid a series of self-immolations done inside Tibet to protest Beijing's rule.

Indian police, who had already tightened security in New Delhi for President Hu Jintao's visit, swept through the protest a few hours later, detaining scores of Tibetans.

The man apparently had doused himself with something highly flammable and was engulfed in flames when he ran past the podium where speakers were criticizing China and Hu's visit.

Fellow activists beat out the flames with Tibetan flags and poured water onto him. He was on fire perhaps less than two minutes, but some of his clothing had disintegrated and his skin was mottled with black, burned patches by the time he was driven to a hospital.

The man, identified as Jamphel Yeshi, sustained burns on 98 percent of his body and his condition was critical, according to the Association of Tibetan Journalists.

Protesters initially prevented police from taking him to the hospital, but officers eventually forcibly took him away.

Yeshi, 27, escaped from Tibet in 2006 and had been living in New Delhi for the past two years, activists said.

Hu is expected to arrive in India on Wednesday for a five-nation economic summit.

While activists had been whispering Monday morning that something dramatic was expected at the protest, organizers insisted they were not behind the self-immolation.

"We have no idea how this happened, but we appreciate the courage," said Tenzing Norsang, an official with the Tibetan Youth Congress. He called on participants at the summit to discuss Tibet.

"If you care about peace you should raise the issue of Tibet," he said. "Hu Jintao is responsible for what is happening there."

The New Delhi protest comes amid a series of self-immolations inside Tibet. About 30 people — many of them monks or nuns, and often in their teens or early 20s — have lit themselves on fire over the past year, calling for the return to Tibet of the Dalai Lama and to protest Chinese rule over their homeland. The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet amid a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule, has blamed China's "ruthless policy" for the self-immolations. China accuses the Dalai Lama of stirring up trouble.

At the site of the protest, a large poster of Hu — with a bloody palm print over his face — said: "Hu Jin Tao is unwelcome" at the summit.

More than 600 demonstrators marched across New Delhi to a plaza near the Indian Parliament to protest Hu's visit. Some carried posters saying "Tibet is burning" or "Tibet is not part of China."

China says Tibet has always been part of its territory. Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries.

Monday's was the second Tibetan self-immolation in India in recent months. Last year, a young Tibetan exile set himself on fire outside the Chinese Embassy. That man suffered minor burns.

"This is what China faces unless they give freedom to Tibet," said Tenzin Dorjee, a young onlooker.

Hu will be attending a summit this week of the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, who form a grouping known as BRICS.

Police in New Delhi were already bracing for protests by the tens of thousands of Tibetan exiles who live in India. Security around the summit location has been tightened, and roads leading to the hotel will be closed to the public a day ahead of the meeting.

Rajan Bhagat, a spokesman for the Delhi police, did not know how long the protesting Tibetans would be held, or how many had been taken into custody.

Tibetan protesters normally are held for anywhere from a few hours to one day — often to stop them from further embarrassing Indian authorities during Chinese visits — though detainees legally can be held for up to one week.

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