Tibetan monk sets himself on fire in China: Reports

BEIJING (AFP) - A Tibetan monk has set himself on fire in an act of protest in China, reports and campaign groups said on Tuesday, as top Communist Party leaders hold a key gathering.

Mr Tsering Gyal, 20, set himself alight on Monday in Guolou, a Tibetan area of Qinghai province in southwestern China, according to the US-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and Radio Free Asia (RFA), which is funded by the US government.

Police extinguished the flames and took Mr Gyal to hospital, they said, adding that his condition was unknown. Another rights group, British-based Free Tibet, said he had survived.

An image posted online by ICT showed what appeared to be a man in flames in the middle of a road, with a group of more than a dozen people watching from several metres away.

Leaders of China's ruling Communist Party are holding a four-day meeting in Beijing known as the Third Plenum, at which they are expected to chart the country's economic course for the next decade.

The Guolou incident is the latest in a string of similar acts in Tibet and neighbouring provinces by about 120 people since 2009. Most of them have died.

Occasionally, tensions in the region have flared into cases of mass violence.

In early October Chinese police reportedly opened fire on a group of protesters in Tibet who had gathered to demand the release of a fellow Tibetan detained for refusing to fly the Chinese flag, injuring 60. Local police denied any incident to AFP.

Beijing condemns the self-immolations and blames them on the Dalai Lama, saying the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader 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, who has lived in India since 1959 after a failed uprising in Tibet, has described the protests as acts of desperation that he is powerless to stop.

"If I created this, then I have the right to say, 'No, don't do,'" the Nobel Peace laureate said when asked about the self-immolations in a recent interview with the Financial Times.

"This is their own creation: Tibetan people - inside Tibet," he added.

"The causes of these things are created by hard-line officials. They have the responsibility. They have to find ways to stop this."

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