A Tibetan exile set himself on fire and suffered extreme burns as he ran down a street in New Delhi on Monday to protest against an upcoming visit 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. He had set himself on fire,” 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.”
Fellow protester Tsewang Dolma told AFP by telephone that Yeshi, who fled his homeland in 2005, was burnt on almost all of his body.
“He is in a very bad condition and hospital doctors are saying he is 98 percent burned,” Dolma said.
Sukhdev Singh Mann, a police officer who was at the scene of the protest, said medical staff were fighting to save Yeshi’s life.
“We rushed him to the Ram Manohar Lohia hospital in a badly-injured condition,” he said.
The protest was the second attempted self-immolation in Delhi, where thousands of Tibetan exiles live, 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 this week 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.
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 these accusations and has also accused the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader who lives in exile in India, of inciting the self-immolations in a bid to split Tibet from the rest of the nation.