2 Tibetan cousins set themselves on fire in China

BEIJING — Two Tibetan cousins set fire to themselves in their village to protest Chinese rule, bringing the total number of self-immolations this week to seven, the highest since the protests began last year, a rights group said Saturday.

The London-based group Free Tibet said cousins Tsepo, 20, and Tenzin, 25, called for independence for Tibet as they set themselves ablaze Thursday in front of a government building in their village in Biru county north of Lhasa, Tibet’s main city.

Tsepo reportedly died and Tenzin’s condition was unknown after he was taken away by authorities, Free Tibet said.

Dozens of ethnic Tibetans have set themselves on fire in heavily Tibetan regions since March 2011 to protest what activists say is Beijing’s heavy-handed rule in the region. Many have called for the return of the Dalai Lama, their exiled spiritual leader.

The protests have intensified as Beijing nears a once-a-decade power transfer in early November.

On Friday, a 24-year-old Tibetan farmer, Lhamo Tseten, died from self-immolation near a military base and a government office in Amuquhu town in Xiahe county in western China’s Gansu province, Free Tibet said. China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported the self-immolation of a Tibetan man by the same name, though it gave slightly different details. Xinhua said Lhamo was a 23-year-old villager and that he set himself on fire near a hospital.

Later on Friday, Tsepag Kyab, 21, set fire to himself and died, also in Amuquhu town, the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile said Saturday.

Earlier reports said three other Tibetans died after setting themselves on fire in the past week in Xiahe county.

Calls to local governments in the area rang unanswered Saturday.

Xiahe is home to Labrang Monastery, one of the most important outside of Tibet and the site of numerous protests by monks following deadly ethnic violence in Tibet in 2008 that was the most sustained Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in decades.

Police in the region are offering a reward of $7,700 for information about planned self-immolations in a bid to stem the protests.

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