Two men have engulfed themselves in towering flames outside a temple that is a popular tourist site in Lhasa, marking the first time a recent wave of self-immolations to protest Chinese rule has reached the tightly guarded Tibetan capital.
One man died and the other was taken to hospital after they set themselves on fire on Sunday outside the Jokhang Temple, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The report quoted a local Communist Party official as blaming separatist forces, an accusation it often makes against Tibetan exiles who support the Dalai Lama.
The two men were taken away by authorities within two minutes of setting themselves on fire.
Protests have become rare in remote Tibet and Lhasa in particular because of tight police security that has blanketed the area since anti-government riots erupted in Lhasa in 2008.
There have been at least 34 immolations since March of last year to draw attention to China's restrictions on Buddhism and to call for the return from exile of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Most have taken place in heavily Tibetan areas of China, but only one had occurred in Tibet itself and none in the capital.
The immolations are also likely to prompt tough, new restrictions on Tibetan social gatherings and religious activities in Lhasa, as they have elsewhere.
The self-immolations occurred in the open-air Barkhor market near the temple in the centre of Lhasa, an area popular with Tibetans and tourists alike.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said today that "inciting such deaths will win no hearts. The political motive behind (the immolations) will never be successful."
Xinhua identified the man who died as Tobgye Tseten from Xiahe county in Gansu province and the other man as Dargye, from Aba county in Sichuan province. Xinhua reported Dargye was in stable condition and able to speak.
China says Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries until Chinese troops invaded in the 1950s. Beijing blames the Dalai Lama for fanning anti-government sentiment and routinely purges monasteries and nunneries, where support for the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence runs high.