|Around two dozen Tibetan monks have set themselves on fire in the past year to protest Chinese influence [Reuters]
A Tibetan monk set himself on fire in western China on Wednesday, an overseas activist group and a Chinese state news agency reported, the latest in a spate of self-immolations.
Jamyang Palden burned himself in Tongren, a monastery town in Qinghai province, and survived after security forces put out the blaze, the official Xinhua News Agency and London-based Free Tibet said.
More than two dozen Tibetans have set themselves on fire in China over the past year to protest the suppression of their religion and culture and call for the Dalai Lama's return.
Palden's self-immolation coincided with the four-year anniversary of violent mass protests against inequality and Chinese influence in Tibet, which led to thousands of arrests and dozens of deaths.
It also comes as China moves to establish firmer control over the semi-autonomous province. Earlier this year, the government ended a long-running policy of allowing Tibet's monasteries to run independently, instead deciding to station Communist Party officials in almost all of them.
Free Tibet said Palden took part in the 2008 protests, the largest uprising against Chinese rule in 50 years, and was arrested and tortured for it.
Palden walked out of Rongwo Monastery in the morning dressed in a gasoline-soaked robe, then used a lighter to burn himself, Xinhua said, citing a county government spokesman.
Free Tibet said Palden went to a public square, prostrated three times beside Rongwo Monastery and shouted "Let His Holiness return! Freedom for Tibet and the Tibetan language!'' before he set himself on fire.
Security forces put out the fire by covering Palden's body with a sheet, the group said.
He was taken to a hospital, but was brought back to the monastery by monks who feared he would be arrested by Chinese authorities, Free Tibet said.
Xinhua said officials were talking with the monk's relatives to try to send him to a hospital in the provincial capital of Xining where he could receive better medical treatment.
The group said about 500 monks and other Tibetans gathered in the town square to demonstrate, with some holding up images of their exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Monks from other monasteries were traveling to the town to express their solidarity and people trying to enter the town were being stopped and questioned by plainclothes security, it said.
Calls to Tongren police, local government and Communist Party offices rang unanswered.
At his annual news conference in Beijing on Wednesday, Premier Wen Jiabao spoke out against the immolations and said it was sad to see such behavior from innocent Tibetans.
"We are opposed to taking such radical moves which disturb and undermine the social harmony,'' Wen said. "The young Tibetans are innocent. We feel deeply distressed by their behavior.''
China has previously sought to discredit the self-immolators, saying that some suffered mental problems or had criminal records. Wen also stressed that Tibet and other heavily Tibetan areas of China remain "inseparable parts of China's territory".
Tibetans, including a prominent writer in Beijing, have pleaded for an end to the self-immolations, saying they are not helping the cause of Tibetan rights.
The communist government has blamed supporters of the Dalai Lama for encouraging the self-immolations.
The Dalai Lama has said he does not encourage the protests, but has praised the courage of those who engage in self-immolation and has attributed the protests to what he calls China's "cultural genocide'' in Tibet.