A Tibetan exile set himself on fire and suffered life-threatening burns as he ran down a street in New Delhi on Monday to protest against a visit this week to India by Chinese President Hu Jintao.
The 27-year-old, identified by fellow protesters as Janphel Yeshi, carried out his attempted self-immolation in Jantar Mantar, a city centre venue for public rallies and demonstrations.
Yeshi, dressed in a cardigan and dark trousers, screamed as his body was covered in flames and he ran along the road with black smoke pouring from his hair, according to witnesses.
“Suddenly this guy came running along,” Nyima Tashi, a 39-year-old Tibetan businessman based in Delhi, told AFP. “Then he fell down. We were all shocked.
“One of our supporters threw a coat on him to try to put out the flames and then the police took him away hospital. He was heavily burned.”
“I had seen him at other rallies,” Tashi added. “We are against the Chinese domination of Tibet, the lack of human rights and religious freedom.”
R.K. Doshi, a doctor on the emergency ward of Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, said medical staff were fighting to save Yeshi’s life.
“His situation is very critical. His survival chances are small,” he said.
, after another man suffered minor burns in November when he tried to set himself on fire outside the Chinese embassy.
President Hu is due in the city to attend a summit on Thursday of the fast-developing BRIC nations − Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Since the start of 2011, a total of 29 Tibetans, many of them Buddhist monks and nuns, are reported to have set themselves on fire in Tibetan-inhabited areas of China to protest against Chinese rule.
Fellow activists said that Yeshi was an unemployed man who had been planning his protest for days and had arrived at the site carrying a hidden bottle of kerosene fuel which he used to douse himself.
“He had a plan and he was preparing for this but he did not reveal it to any of us,” Palden Dakpa, friend of Yeshi’s, told AFP. “He said he was to stay at Jantar Mantar for three days to protest at the Chinese leader’s visit.”
Yeshi fled from China in 2005 and was living in the Tibetan exiles’ colony of Majnu ka Tila in Delhi, friends said.
Many Tibetans in China complain of religious repression as well as a gradual erosion of their culture, which they blame on a growing influx of Han Chinese − the country’s dominant ethnic group − in areas where they live.
But China rejects the accusations and accuses the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader who lives in exile in the Indian hill town of Dharamshala, of inciting self-immolations in a bid to split Tibet from the rest of the nation.
“We’re extremely saddened to hear what occurred,” Dicki Chhoyang, information secretary of the Tibetan government in exile, said from Dharamshala.
“It’s very, very unfortunate. We’ve always maintained a position of appealing to individuals not to resort to drastic actions.”