BEIJING — Two Tibetan men died in separate self-immolations on Monday, China's state media said, the eighth and ninth reported to have set themselves on fire in the last week as the ruling Communists gather for a leadership transition.
Both incidents took place in Dowa township in Tongren, a county in northwest China's Qinghai province, Xinhua news agency said, the latest self-immolations to highlight simmering desperation in Tibetan areas.
Nyangkhar Tashi, 23, set himself on fire at about 3.15pm (0715 GMT) in the village of Jiaolongwu, reported Xinhua, adding that several hours later, Nyangje Lhabon, 20, self-immolated in the village of Zhiyue.
The UK-based Free Tibet group, who gave the first man's name as Nyingkar Tashi, said he set himself alight during a prayer ceremony for a young mother who self-immolated in the area earlier this month.
The campaign organisation said he had called out for freedom in Tibet and for the long life of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Since 2009, 69 people have set themselves on fire in protest at Chinese rule, of whom 54 have died, the India-based Tibetan government-in-exile had said before the latest incidents.
But the immolations have gained pace in recent months and particularly in the past week as the Communist Party opened its sensitive congress on Thursday to pass the baton of power to the next generation of party apparatchiks.
The party has sought to project an image of national unity during the highly stage-managed gathering amid unrest in minority areas, and the escalating protests have been aimed at undercutting the facade, according to representatives of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India.
On the sidelines of the congress on Friday, officials from the Tibetan Communist Party angrily denounced the Dalai Lama and overseas Tibetan "separatists" for orchestrating the immolations to breed unrest.
The Dalai Lama said on Monday that China is more interested in criticising him than finding the reason behind the spate of self-immolations threatening to mar the leadership change.
Many Tibetans accuse China of cultural, religious and political oppression. They are also angered by Beijing's repeated vitriol directed at the Dalai Lama, who is deeply revered by Tibetans.
China insists most Tibetans are happy and touts its efforts to bring economic development to the region.
Despite the coming leadership change, political analysts say no rethink of Tibet policy is expected as Beijing fears any hint of indecision could further embolden restive minority groups.