Tibetan burns himself to death in China: Reports

BEIJING (AFP) - A Tibetan has died after setting himself on fire to protest at China's rule of the Himalayan region in the first self-immolation for three months, a rights group and overseas media said on Wednesday.

Mr Sangye Khar set himself alight outside a police station in Xiahe county in western China's Gansu province, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and US-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA) both said.

The 33-year-old set fire to himself in Amuqu township on Tuesday morning, and died "in protest against Chinese policies in Tibetan areas", RFA said, citing anonymous local sources.

The protest took place as the authorities were reported to have stepped up a security crackdown as Tibetans gathered to mark a major religious festival.

Tuesday's festival was the anniversary of the death of Tsongkhapa, who founded the Gelugpa or Yellow Hat school of Tibetan Buddhism in the 15th century.

Using the area's Tibetan name, RFA said the authorities had "stepped up security in Amchok and clamped down on communications, including the Internet" in the wake of the self-immolation.

The ICT, meanwhile, said "the situation in the area is tense".

Calls to the police and local government in Xiahe by AFP were not answered.

There have been more than 130 such acts in Tibet and elsewhere since 2009, most of them fatal, both the ICT and RFA said.

Self-immolations peaked in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party's pivotal five-yearly congress in November 2012, and have become less common in recent months.

The most recent such act was also outside a police station in a Tibetan-populated area of Gansu.

Student Lhamo Tashi died after setting himself on fire in front of a police station in Hezuo county in September, reports said.

The previous immolation was reported in April.

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.

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

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.