Tibetan father of four sets himself alight in China: Reports

BEIJING (AFP) - A Tibetan father of four set himself on fire in protest at China's rule over the Himalayan region, overseas media and rights groups said, adding that it was unclear whether he survived.

Tenzin Gyatso attempted to self-immolate after being "upset" by tightened security ahead of the 80th birthday of exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, sources told Radio Free Asia, which is backed by the US government.

The 35-year-old staged his fiery protest on Wednesday in Daofu, in a Tibetan-majority area of the south-western Chinese province of Sichuan, RFA said.

"While he was burning, security personnel stationed in the area rushed to put out the fire and took him away," a source named Tawu Tenzin told the media outlet.

"It is hard to know now whether he has died or is still alive."

He has the same name as the Dalai Lama, who is denounced as a separatist by Beijing and whose birthday is on July 6.

Two years ago, police opened fire on Tibetans marking his birthday in Daofu, shooting at least one monk in the head and seriously wounding several other people, two overseas groups said.

The Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said that Tenzin Gyatso set fire to himself outside a government building where "political education" was taking place.

"It is believed that the tight security and oppressive atmosphere in the... area in the last few days triggered Tenzin Gyatso's self-immolation protest," the group on Friday cited a Tibetan in contact with local sources as saying.

Police in Ganzi prefecture, which includes Daofu, told AFP they were not aware of the reported self-immolation attempt.

There have been 140 such acts in Tibet and elsewhere since 2009, most of them fatal, both the ICT and RFA said.

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

Many Tibetans accuse the government of religious repression and eroding their culture, as China'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.