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Tibetans mark new year under shadow of immolations

world Updated: Feb 23, 2012 00:12 IST

Tibetans in northwest China marked a tense traditional new year on Wednesday with prayer, the sounding of a gong and subdued defiance, in the wake of a string of self-immolations and protests against Chinese control.

The traditional new year, or “Losar”, is a combination of Buddhist ceremony and family celebration observed across the Tibetan highlands.

But this year, unrest has overshadowed the celebrations and there has even been a call from an exiled Tibetan leader for people to shun festivities and instead pray for those who have suffered under Chinese rule.

At least 16 Tibetans are believed to have died after setting themselves on fire in protest since March, most of them Buddhist monks in Tibetan parts of Sichuan and Gansu provinces, next to what China calls the Tibet Autonomous Region.

This year’s Losar has brought no major flare-ups.

Lobsang Sangay, prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile in northern India, this week urged Tibetans not to celebrate Losar this year, and instead to pray for those “who have sacrificed and suffered under the repressive policies of the Chinese government”.

Chinese state media largely ignored mention of tension in their reports of the new year. But the official tibet.cn website said the celebrations were proof Tibetans had spurned the Dalai Lama’s “reactionary attempts to damage people's happy lives”.