BEIJING — A Tibetan Buddhist monk set himself on fire in western China in apparent protest against Beijing's rule over the restive region, a monitoring group and a U.S. government-backed radio station said.
The monk set himself ablaze in a public square on Saturday morning in Kardze, also known as Ganzi, in western Sichuan province, according to Radio Free Asia and Free Tibet, an advocacy group based in Britain.
The unidentified monk was taken away after the fire was extinguished by security forces, reports said. A witness said the man was burned beyond recognition and it was unclear if he survived, according to Free Tibet Director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren.
A man who answered the phone at the local police station Monday said he was unaware of the case and "not clear" about the situation. The government for Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, which includes the town of Kardze, referred questions to police.
A YouTube video showed two men spraying fire extinguishers on what appeared to be a body at the edge of a busy street as a crowd gathered. Free Tibet acquired the video from a witness who posted it on social media, according to the group.
If confirmed, it would be at least the 148th recorded case of a Tibetan self-immolating since 2009, according to Radio Free Asia and Free Tibet. At least 125 have died, according to monitoring groups.
China claims Tibet has been part of its territory for more than seven centuries and regards the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader, as a dangerous separatist. Many Tibetans insist they were essentially independent for most of that time and have protested what they regard as China's heavy-handed rule.
Before lighting themselves on fire, many have cried out for Tibetan independence or prayed for the return of the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet to India in 1959 during an abortive uprising, witnesses have been quoted as saying. Chinese forces have occupied the Himalayan region since 1950.
"While I keep hoping every one will be the last one, I suspect they will continue as long as the repression continues," Byrne-Rosengren said.
Chinese officials last week lashed out at India for hosting the Dalai Lama near their disputed border and said that, by allowing the Tibetan spiritual leader's visit, India was violating its commitment to respect China's claims to the region.
The Dalai Lama has said he simply wants a higher degree of autonomy for Tibet under Chinese rule. He said in an interview last month shown on HBO that "self-killing" through immolation is not good from a Buddhist viewpoint, but he could not openly condemn it out of respect to surviving family members.
Follow Matthew Brown on Twitter at https://twitter.com/matthewbrownap
Matthew Brown, The Associated Press