Tibetan monk's burning marks 100th immolation bid

A Tibetan exile turned himself into a ball of fire in front of a Buddhist monument Wednesday, the 100th self-immolation attempt since 2009 in a wave of protests against Chinese rule.

Witnesses told AFP the man in his early 20s doused himself with petrol in a restaurant washroom in the Nepalese capital, ran outside and set himself alight next to Kathmandu's Boudhanath Stupa, one of the world's holiest Buddhist shrines.

"After setting himself on fire at the foot of the stupa, he started running -- he cried out something but I couldn't understand the language," said a waiter at the restaurant.

"Police arrived within minutes after people started to shout for help," the waiter, Phursang Tamang, told AFP.

The bespectacled man was engulfed by flames before police were able to extinguish the fire and take him to hospital where he was listed in critical condition.

The Tibetan government-in-exile, based in the Indian town of Dharamshala in the foothills of the Himalayas, had previously put the number of burnings since 2009 at 99, with 83 of them fatal.

The office of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, had identified the man as a monk. Police in Kathmandu could not confirm that he was a monk, and he was clad in a jacket and red cap rather than in a monk's robes.

The gruesome burnings, most of which have occurred in Tibetan-inhabited areas of China, are seen as a sign of desperation in the community over perceived religious persecution in Chinese-ruled Tibet.

Speaking to AFP ahead of the milestone of 100 cases, Tibetan exile prime minister Lobsang Sangay had blamed Chinese authorities and called for the international community to take note.

"Because there is no freedom of speech or outlet for any form of protest, unfortunately Tibetans have chosen self-immolations," he said in an interview in Dharamshala.

"To the international community I say 'stand up for Tibetans'. The Chinese government has completely militarised the Tibetan area," he added.

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of encouraging the immolations and says huge investment has brought modernisation and a better standard of living to Tibet.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising and has since based himself in Dharamshala where Tibetans have previously marked new burnings with candlelit vigils and prayers for the victim.

The Dalai Lama's representative Tempa Tsering called the self-immolation "very unfortunate" and repeated appeals from the spiritual leader for Tibetans to end the protests.

"We feel very said that this has happened. The Tibetan leadership has been urging people to refrain from such drastic steps for long," Tsering said.

Suicide contradicts Buddhist teachings that all life is sacred, and Tibetan leaders have struggled to balance anger over Chinese rule with calls for protesters not to use such desperate measures.

The first self-immolation occurred in 2009 in the Kirti monastery in China's Sichuan province, with a pause until 2011 when they spread across the Tibetan plateau.

Nepal, home to around 20,000 Tibetans, is under intense pressure from Beijing over the exiles. It has repeatedly said it will not tolerate what it calls "anti-China activities".

"It's a sacrifice for the Tibetan people's struggle for freedom," a Tibetan community activist in Nepal said of Wednesday's protest, asking not to be named because of fears over possible reprisals.

"People are no longer afraid to go to this extent because (oppression) has crossed the limit."

The man who set himself on fire on Wednesday was expected to struggle to survive.

"His entire body was caught in the flames. At the hospital he tried to speak but couldn't," a police spokesman told AFP.