Tibet's spiritual leader in exile, Dharamshala-based the Dalai Lama, not only supports but had applauded a series of self-immolations by Tibetan monks in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and the adjoining Sichuan province, a senior Communist Party of China (CPC) leader said on Friday.
Indicating that the suicide attempts by the monks were not spontaneous but planned, the CPC leader said that time and place for these incidents were forecast and people were present at the venues to record the events with video cameras.
The timing of these new allegations couldn't have been more symbolic; they came on Friday at a press briefing by Zhao Qizheng, spokesperson for the annual session of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which meets on Saturday.
It also preceded the final meeting of the current National People's Congress (NPC), or the Chinese Parliament, which will congregate on Monday for the last time before the government leadership changes later this year.
"According to what I have heard, he publicly applauded the courage of these people who set fire to themselves," Zhao told a packed press conference held at the historic Great Hall of the People, the Chinese Parliament.
More than 20 monks have set themselves afire in the last one year, demanding freedom.
Zhao said committing suicide, which is a disrespect for life, is not a wise thing to do.
He asked relevant people not to take extreme actions to express their attitudes.
"It is important to avoid being misled," Zhao said. "If you lose your life because of extreme actions, it will be too late to regret it." Many of them were very young, he said, adding that the "youngest was 18."
Asked about portraits of China's leaders including Mao Tse-tung inside temples, Zhao said it was a portrait that commemorates the 60th anniversary of the "peaceful liberation of Tibet" and therefore "I do not think it is anything to be accused of."
The Tibetan Autonomous Region, he said, has recently taken steps to improve the living conditions and environment for local monks to practice Buddhism. Efforts have also been made to provide roads, water, electricity and cultural services for them.