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'Cultural genocide' behind self-immolations: Dalai Lama

world Updated: Nov 08, 2011 16:15 IST

AFP
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The Dalai Lama on Monday said Tibetans faced "cultural genocide" under hardline Chinese rule that he blamed for a recent wave of self-immolations in China's southwest.

"Chinese communist propaganda create a very rosy picture. But actually, including many Chinese from mainland China who visit Tibet, they all have the impression things are terrible," the Dalai Lama told journalists in Tokyo.

"Some kind of policy, some kind of cultural genocide is taking place," the 76-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader said, in comments that are likely to rile Beijing.

Eight Buddhist monks and two nuns have set themselves alight in ethnically Tibetan parts of Sichuan province since the self-immolation of a young monk in March at Kirti monastery sparked a government crackdown.

Activists say that at least five monks and two nuns have died and that Chinese police have at times responded by beating the burning protesters and their colleagues rather than providing assistance.

"(In the) last 10, 15 years, there were some kind of hardliner Chinese officials," the Dalai Lama said at the news conference. "So that's why you see these sad incidents have happened due to this desperate sort of situation."

China has accused the Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland for India in 1959, of instigating the burnings in a form of "terrorism in disguise."

In March 2008, major anti-Chinese unrest erupted in the Tibetan capital Lhasa and spread to neighbouring areas of western China with Tibetan populations.

Tibet's exiled government said more than 200 Tibetans were killed in a subsequent clampdown. Beijing said "rioters" were responsible for 21 deaths.

A month later the Dalai Lama, who is reviled by the Chinese government, accused China of "cultural genocide".

Many Tibetans in China are angry about what they see as growing domination by the country's majority Han ethnic group.

In the latest in a number of incidents, Buddhist nun Qiu Xiang last week died after she set herself on fire, calling for religious freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama, rights groups said.

On Monday, the Dalai Lama said: "We are totally committed to a non-violent principle."

China has long sought to discredit the Dalai Lama, who enjoys wide popularity in Tibet and abroad but is vilified as a "separatist" by China's communist authorities.

He has in the past condemned self-immolations, which many Buddhists believe are contrary to their faith, but has until now kept a low profile over the recent wave of protests.

He announced in March that he wanted to shed his role as political chief of the Tibetan government-in-exile but will retain the more influential role of Tibet's spiritual leader.

He earlier on Monday met several Japanese lawmakers, including an adviser to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, asking Japan to push for China's democratisation.

On Saturday he travelled to the tsunami-hit port city Ishinomaki to offer prayers. In April, the Dalai Lama visited Tokyo and attended a Buddhist service for victims of the disaster a month earlier.