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FROTH AND BUBBLE
Pollution shrouds Tibetan capital, grounding flights
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Dec 20, 2013


Tibetan monk sets self on fire in China: reports
Beijing (AFP) Dec 19, 2013 - A Tibetan monk set himself on fire in northwest China on Thursday, state media said, in what Tibetan media described as a suicide in protest against Chinese policies.

The monk, 43, "committed self-immolation," in Gansu province, which has a heavy ethnic Tibetan population, state-run news service Xinhua said on a social media account.

There have been more than 120 similar acts by Tibetans in China and elsewhere since 2009, most of them fatal.

India-based Tibetan news website Phayul.com reported that the monk, named Tsuiltrim Gyatso, had died after setting himself on fire "to protest the Chinese government".

The website published a photo apparently showing Gyatso's body engulfed in flames, with his skin charred black.

Self-immolations peaked in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party's five-yearly congress last November, but have become less common in recent months

A Tibetan father-of-two set himself on fire in protest earlier this month, US-backed broadcaster Radio Free Asia and a Tibetan rights group reported.

A monk set himself on fire in a Tibetan area of Qinghai province in northwest China last month, reports said.

Two Tibetan monks reportedly died in April after setting themselves on fire at Aba in the southern province of Sichuan.

Beijing condemns the acts and blames them on exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, saying he uses them to further a separatist agenda.

But Tibetans and human rights groups say the protests are a response to Beijing's tight controls on their exercise of religion.

The Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace laureate who has lived in India since 1959 after a failed uprising in Tibet, has described the burnings as acts of desperation that he is powerless to stop.

Authorities in Gansu were not immediately available for comment on the latest reports.

China's pollution reached new heights on Friday, as the Tibetan capital of Lhasa was shrouded in a cloud of dust that halted flights and rendered one of its most-recognisable landmarks nearly invisible.

Lhasa, which at 3,700 metres (12,000 feet) above sea level is one of the highest cities on the world, was named by China's Ministry of Environmental Protection last month as one of 10 cities with the country's best air quality.

But on Friday, the picturesque capital of the Tibetan region was enveloped in a thick cloud of pollution that the Hong Kong-based ifeng.com news website said was caused by dust that had blown in from north of the Tibetan Plateau.

Visibility in some areas was reduced to five kilometres (three miles), flights were grounded, and the city's air quality index exceeded 500, the highest level, the report said.

Photos posted online by ifeng.com showed the world-famous Potala Palace, a sprawling Buddhist complex and UNESCO World Heritage site that previously served as the winter palace of the Dalai Lama, nearly invisible from a few kilometres away.

The images of pollution in the remote tourist destination, as opposed to in the industrial cities of northeast China, took users of the country's popular social networks by surprise.

"Even Lhasa has floating dust," wrote one. "Heaven on Earth is gone."

"It proves again that Lhasa is the sacred inseparable territory of China," quipped another, in a nod to the tensions between Beijing and Tibetans seeking greater autonomy for the region.

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