Tensions were high in a town in southwest China on Saturday after police shot a Tibetan monk who set himself on fire in protest against Chinese rule, activist groups and residents said.
The alleged incident comes ahead of an ultra sensitive few weeks in Buddhist Tibet and neighbouring provinces of western China, with March 10 the 50th anniversary of a failed uprising that led to the Dalai Lama fleeing to India.
The monk, in his late 20s, was shot after dousing himself with petrol and setting himself alight in the Tibetan populated town of Aba in Sichuan province on Friday afternoon, the London based group Free Tibet reported.
It was not known whether he had died as he was immediately surrounded by police and taken away after being shot, according to the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), another activist group based in the United States.
The monk held an image of the Dalai Lama, Tibetans' spiritual leader, as he embarked on his protest, the activist groups said, citing unnamed witnesses and residents of Aba.
Aba residents whom AFP reached by phone on Saturday were extremely fearful of discussing the issue but admitted police had fired shots, although they would not comment on who these were aimed at.
Asked whether a monk had set himself on fire, an employee at a local hotel, who could not be named for fear of reprisal, said she had been told not to say anything by the police.
But she said police had fired shots.
"It's true, but I can't say any more. My phone is monitored," she told AFP before hanging up.
Other residents also confirmed the shooting, but quickly hung up for fear of being caught talking about the situation.
Some spoke of a strong police presence in the town after the incident.
"There are many policemen on patrol in the street and all of them have guns," an employee at a teahouse in Aba, who could also not be named, told AFP.
Local government and police would not comment on the issue.