Tibetan nomad dies in self-immolation: Rights group

BEIJING (AFP) - A Tibetan man has died after setting himself on fire, a Western rights group said on Wednesday, the latest in a string of self-immolations carried out in protest against Chinese rule.

Kunchok Kyab, a 26-year-old nomad, set himself alight on Tuesday at a Buddhist monastery in a Tibetan autonomous region of western China's Gansu province, London-based Free Tibet said in a statement.

US-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) also reported the death on Tuesday, describing it as the 98th case of an ethnic Tibetan self-burning in China since February 2009.

Free Tibet said the dead man is survived by a wife and a baby, while RFA reported there were two children. Both Free Tibet and RFA said the incident was the third to have taken place this year.

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 modernisation and a better standard of living to Tibet.

Authorities have sought to crack down on the self-burnings by arresting those it accuses of inciting them, and has ordered judicial bodies to charge anyone aiding or abetting them with murder.

Beijing routinely accuses the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his "clique" of inciting such acts of protest to push a separatist agenda.

The Dalai Lama, who says he is not seeking Tibetan independence but greater autonomy, fled his homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising. He has since based himself in the Indian hill town of Dharamshala.