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China ends Lunar New Year with molten metal showers
by Staff Writers
Nuanquan, China (AFP) Feb 24, 2013

Two Tibetans self-immolate in China: rights groups
Beijing (AFP) Feb 25, 2013 - Two more Tibetans have died after setting themselves ablaze in China, Western rights groups said Monday, the latest in a string of self-immolations carried out in protest against Chinese rule.

The Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and London-based Free Tibet said in separate releases that a man identified as Tsesung Kyab set himself on fire in front of a Buddhist monastery in western Gansu province.

The man, believed to be in his late twenties, died on the final day of the Tibetan New Year, ICT said, adding that he was related to another Tibetan who died after setting himself on fire in December.

Separately, ICT and US-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) also reported that another Tibetan set himself ablaze Sunday in China's Qinghai province. ICT said in its report Monday that the man, Phagmo Dundrup, had died.

More than 100 people have set themselves on fire in protest at China's rule since 2009 and at least 87 have died, according to reports.

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 rejects criticism of its rule, saying Tibetans enjoy religious freedom and pointing 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 protests by arresting those accused of inciting them and prosecuting them for murder, and have embarked on a major publicity drive on the issue in recent weeks.

Beijing accuses the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his "clique" of inciting such acts to push a separatist agenda. But the Dalai Lama says he is seeking greater autonomy rather than Tibetan independence.

The Nobel laureate fled his homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising, and has since based himself in the Indian hill town of Dharamshala.

Fireworks lit up the sky across China on Sunday and straw-hatted farmers in one village hurled molten metal into the air, as the country marked the end of Lunar New Year festivities.

China's Lantern Festival traditionally signals the close of just over two weeks of rest and feasting during the Lunar New Year, the country's biggest holiday, which sees hundreds of millions return to their ancestral homes.

Cities across the country echoed with explosions as millions took to the streets to set off fireworks, and one village hosted a molten metal throwing festival, one of a host of ancient Chinese customs revived in recent decades.

With little more than a straw hat and goggles for protection, a team of farmers spooned molten hot metal from buckets before hurling it at a brick wall, where it rained down in fountains of glowing shards.

The spectacle brought roars of approval from the audience in Nuanquan village, a few hours drive from Beijing, which has revived the centuries-old festival in a bid to boost tourism, building a dedicated amphitheatre for the purpose.

Scrap iron collected from households in the village is melted down in primitive furnaces, which shoot flames and torrents of sparks into the night sky behind the technicolour stage.

Donning a straw hat and a wooly jacket, one 49-year-old maize farmer completed his transition to a fire-thrower, telling AFP: "I love doing it... there's no danger at all."

The fiery festival is said to have been invented over 300 years ago by poor blacksmiths in the village who could not afford the fireworks traditionally used during the season.

"We have an ancient saying, if you don't set off fireworks or throw molten metal... the village won't be peaceful, we still believe that," festival performer Liu Yueqing said, before taking to the stage in a bright yellow uniform.

But the festival was banned during the tumultous decade of the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. "If you took part, you could be arrested," a local resident surnamed Zou said.

"Anyone who took part was said to be cow monsters and snake demons," he said, referring to a slogan used to condemn people during the period, adding that the revived version of the festival was "bigger and better than ever".

Faced with low profits from farming, villages across China have turned to tourism as a source of income, rediscovering their ancient architecture, crafts and festivals as a way of luring visitors from the cities.

Some taking in the sites at Nuanquan were worried by the tourism push. "Now the biggest threat to traditional village culture isn't politics -- it's economics," Hou Xue, a Beijing cultural relic enthusiast said.

"These flashy government organised events don't have the right flavour, they don't seem authentic," he added.

While hot metal sparks fizzed under the full moon, others in China set off fireworks and ate sweet dumplings to mark the festival.

"The pork ones sold out early. We can't make enough," said a clerk at a branch of a famous dumpling chain in China's commercial hub of Shanghai, who offered crab meat or sweet sesame paste alternatives.

Worshippers thronged Shanghai's Jing'an Buddhist Temple, burning incense and tossing coins into a giant urn to make wishes for the coming year.

A "fireworks spree" on Sunday evening led to Beijing's air quality falling to hazardous levels, the state-run China Radio International reported.

Parts of the country have been blanketed with thick smog in recent weeks, with the pollution blamed on coal-burning and auto exhaust emissions.

Many of China's migrant workers living in rural areas delay their return to their workplaces beyond the official public holiday, which lasts only a week.


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Tibetan teens in rare double immolation: reports
Beijing (AFP) Feb 21, 2013
Two Tibetan teenagers died after they set fire to themselves in protest at Chinese rule, reports and Western rights groups said, in a rare instance of a double self-immolation in the restive region. The former primary school classmates were named as 18-year-old Sonam Dargye and a 17-year-old identified by US-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) only as Rinchen. They died Tuesday in Aba prefecture ... read more

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