BEIJING — One man died and another was seriously injured when they set themselves on fire outside Tibetan Buddhism’s holiest temple in the center of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, according to Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency. It was the first time that such protests against Chinese rule have occurred in the city.
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The self-immolations occurred on Sunday afternoon outside the Jokhang Temple during the holy month of Saga Dawa, when followers of Tibetan Buddhism celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha.
They were the most significant act of protest in Lhasa since an uprising in 2008 that was crushed by Chinese security forces.
The authorities stepped up security in Lhasa after the uprising, particularly in the central market area known as the Barkhor. The Jokhang Temple, which is a pilgrimage destination, is in the heart of the area.
That two men set themselves on fire in Lhasa, far from the sites of earlier self-immolations in eastern Tibet and under tight security since 2008, underscores the widening discontent over Chinese rule. At least 36 people in the Tibetan regions of China have set themselves on fire since March 2011, when a monk named Phuntsog from the Kirti Monastery set himself on fire in Ngaba, a town in a Tibetan area of Sichuan Province.
Xinhua identified the two protesters on Sunday as Dargye, from Aba County, the Chinese name for Ngaba, and Tobgye Tseten, from Xiahe County, or Labrang in Tibetan, the seat of the famous Labrang Monastery and a center of protests against Chinese rule.
Both counties are in the region of eastern Tibet that is traditionally known as Amdo and where the worlds of the ethnic Tibetans and ethnic Hans have overlapped. The Han rule China, and many Tibetans resent Beijing’s policies in Tibet and the Han who migrate into Tibetan regions for work and business opportunities.
Tobgye Tseten died in the fire he set, Xinhua said, but Dargye survived. He was seriously injured, the news agency said, but was in stable condition and able to talk.
Harriet Beaumont, a spokeswoman for the advocacy group Free Tibet, identified the man who died as Dorjee Tseten, 19, from Bhora in Labrang County. She said the two men shouted three times outside the temple before setting themselves on fire, but it was not immediately clear what they said. Afterward, she said, security officers began detaining Tibetans, especially those from Ngaba County.
A man who answered the telephone at the Yarlung Tsangpo Hotel in Lhasa said security in the city had been tightened and additional security forces sent in. The man, who gave his name as Mr. Liu, said it was unclear whether the new forces were made up of regular police officers or were units of the People’s Armed Police, a paramilitary force that is usually called out to quell riots and maintain security in the restive ethnic regions of western China.
Robert J. Barnett, a scholar of modern Tibet at Columbia University, said a Tibetan in Lhasa had told him the city was in a “boiling situation” after the self-immolations.
“We’re now seeing self-immolations that seem to be political expressions that are in sympathy with the core incidents that happened earlier,” Mr. Barnett said.
“The Chinese officials are really worried,” he said, because the latest protests seem to be “driven by an idea, a political goal.”
By contrast, he said, the earlier self-immolations in Ngaba were largely in reaction to security clampdowns at the Kirti Monastery after the 2008 uprising.
Ngaba has been the center of the self-immolations, but Tibetans have now set themselves on fire in areas across the vast Tibetan plateau. Most have been members of the clergy. Before the self-immolations in Lhasa, there had been just one such protest in the Tibet Autonomous Region, by a layman in the eastern area known as Chamdo.
The self-immolations on Sunday were first reported by Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, which have contact with Tibetans in western China. Voice of America reported that the two men worked at a restaurant in Lhasa called Nyima Ling. Radio Free Asia said the two were monks who were taken away in security vehicles within 15 minutes of setting themselves on fire.
In March, President Hu Jintao of China told the Tibet delegates to the National People’s Congress in Beijing that they must exert a “continuous effort in sustaining social harmony and stability.” Official news reports say Chen Quanguo, the current party chief of Tibet, repeated Mr. Hu’s words in public meetings and said officials would “persist in the thought that stability overrides all.”
Shi Da and Zhang Wei contributed research