NEW DELHI -- A Tibetan man walked onto a street on Wednesday morning in Katmandu, the capital of Nepal, poured gasoline over his body and set himself on fire. Engulfed in flames, and writhing in pain, the monk became the latest Tibetan to self-immolate as part of a protest campaign against Chinese rule in Tibet.
In Nepal, a small Himalayan nation that is home to thousands of Tibetan exiles, the authorities said the monk was hospitalized in critical condition. Witnesses told The Associated Press that the man, who was dressed in the robes of a Buddhist monk, shouted slogans against China before falling to the ground, as others quickly put out the flames and called for help.
Photographs showed Nepalese security officers arriving as the protester stood in the middle of the street, his body consumed by flames and black smoke.
This latest self-immolation comes at a wrenching moment for Tibetans inside and outside China. Desperate to focus global attention on political and religious repression inside Tibet, yet barred by Chinese authorities from holding any political protests there, a growing number of young Tibetan men and women have set themselves on fire during the last three years.
The protest campaign is approaching the grim milestone of 100 self-immolations in Tibetan areas of China: exiled Tibetan political leaders in India, as well as an advocacy group, Save Tibet, have documented 99 such incidents inside China since February 2009. A handful of Tibetans outside Tibet have also self-immolated, including a man who set himself on fire in March 2012 during a pro-Tibet demonstration in New Delhi. His image, captured by a news photographer, ricocheted around the world.
The protester in Nepal has not yet been identified but he timed his self-immolation to coincide with the important Tibetan festival of Losar, the Tibetan New Year, during which the government in exile has asked Tibetans not to celebrate in solidarity with Tibetans still in Tibet.
The protester set himself on fire near a major Buddhist stupa, or religious structure, that is in the Boudhanath section of Katmandu, where many Tibetan exiles live.
A waiter at the Golden Eye Cafe told The A.P. that the Tibetan man used the bathroom in the restaurant before stepping outside onto the street. Later, the waiter found a bottle of gasoline and clothing in the bathroom.
"He looked like the hundreds of Tibetans who came to Boudhanath today, and I did not suspect he was going to set himself on fire," said the waiter, Prasant Tamang.
The Chinese government has condemned the self-immolations as criminal acts and has been waging a police crackdown. Last week, Chinese state media reported that at least 70 people had been arrested or detained in a Tibetan region of the province of Qinghai and accused of inciting others to self-immolate. Last Friday, a Chinese court sentenced a Tibetan man to 13 years in prison on similar charges.
Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, expressed sadness about the self-immolation in Nepal and said his administration had asked Tibetans not to take drastic actions, including self-immolation. But he also placed the blame for such acts on the Chinese government.
"The occupation of Tibet and repression of Tibetans are the primary reason for the self-immolations inside Tibet," Mr. Sangay said by e-mail on Wednesday, while he was visiting the United States. "The solution to the tragedy in Tibet lies with Beijing and my administration is fully committed to dialogue and to address the issue peacefully."
For decades, Chinese leaders have vilified the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, and the country's state-run media have recently been blaming him for orchestrating the self-immolations. Tibetans have dismissed such claims as blatant propaganda and argued that the self-immolations are the result of repressive Chinese policies that have sharply restructured political and religious rights in Tibetan areas.
"Why do the Tibetans burn themselves?" asked Penpa Tsering, speaker of the exiled Tibetan Parliament, which is based in Dharamsala, India, in a speech earlier this month. "Political freedom in Tibet is nonexistent."
Nepal is pinched between China and India and for decades has served as a way station for Tibetans escaping from Chinese rule. In recent years, Chinese leaders have pressured Nepal's government to choke off this flow of refugees and to limit political protests by Tibetans living in Nepal.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.