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Tibetans Urged not to Celebrate New Year

W460

The Tibetan prime minister in exile called Friday for traditional new year celebrations to be shelved as a mark of respect to the nearly 100 people who have self-immolated in the last three years.

A total of 99 Tibetans have set themselves alight to protest Chinese rule in Tibet since 2009, according to the latest tally from the Tibetan government in exile in India.

"Given this continuing tragic situation, I request my fellow Tibetans to not celebrate Losar (the Tibetan New Year on February 11) with our usual festivities," said a statement from Lobsang Sangay.

"I ask you to perform only the customary religious rituals like visiting temples and making offerings," it added, while urging Tibetans to wear their traditional robes "to display our identity and tradition".

In the latest self-immolation, Kunchok Kyab, a 26-year-old nomad, set himself on fire Tuesday at a Buddhist monastery in a Tibetan autonomous region of western China's Gansu province where he died from injuries.

U.S.-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) said it was the 98th case of an ethnic Tibetan self-burning in China.

The rate of self-immolations spiked in November in the lead-up to the Chinese Communist Party's once-in-a-decade power handover, where Xi Jinping was named party chief. He is expected to become China's president in March.

Many Tibetans in China accuse the government of religious repression and eroding their culture, as the country's majority Han ethnic group increasingly moves into historically Tibetan areas.

China rejects that, saying Tibetans enjoy religious freedom. Beijing also points to huge ongoing investment it says has brought modernization and a better standard of living to Tibet.

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