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China keeps a lid on Tibet's troubles

Even when roadblocks and threats don’t keep journalists out, Tibetans are often too spooked to speak openly.

Tibet: How the trouble started

XINING — Monks are under lockdown as negotiations hit a stalemate.

Tense times continue in Tibet

Details are scarce, but given China's security crackdown, it's clear the situation is serious.
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Tibetans and supporters of the Tibetan cause stage a hunger strike in The Hague on Nov. 16, 2011. (Valerie Kuypers/AFP/Getty Images)

The tense situation on the Tibetan plateau is not getting any better in the days leading up to when Tibetans traditionally celebrate the new year.

Tibetan rights groups outside of China report that another nun set herself on fire this weekend to protest Chinese rule in the region, where unrest has spread far beyond the borders of what China defines as Tibet.

The official Chinese news agency Xinhua confirmed the incident, which took place in Aba, a heavily Tibetan part of Sichuan province.

More from GlobalPost: Tibet is burning

Though China hasn't confirmed all of the self-immolations, Tibetan activists say this case marks the 23rd in two years. Both Free Tibet and Xinhua say the 18-year-old nun has died of her injuries.

The number of deaths and scale of protests, along with the scope of the security response, are all particularly hard to pin down. China has gone to extreme lengths to bar all but official government-run media from reporting in the Tibetan region, making confirmation of the incidents nearly impossible.

But given the massive security response and China's efforts to stymy foreign journalists from entering the area, it's clear that serious problems remain.

More from GlobalPost: Video of Tibet self-immolation (GRAPHIC)

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Welcome to Thailand: The penis shrine

Tucked behind the Swissotel Hotel in Bangkok is a fertility shrine with hundreds of phallus carvings.

It’s been a while since I got anywhere near a seven-foot penis.

The last time that happened I was in Bhutan, where I reported on the Buddhism-inspired phallic imagery locals there paint on their houses to ward off evil spirits.

You'll find similar phallic warship rituals in Japan, too, as reported by GlobalPost in a story and photo essay on penis and vagina festivals.

Since it’s almost springtime, it was about time I made another pilgrimage to pay my respects to the penis.

After all, if it weren’t for a global fascination with the phallus, I would have to find another way to make a living.

So today I went to the “penis shrine,” as the Lingam Fertility Shrine in Bangkok is colloquially called.

It's a small wooden structure tucked behind a giant glass building of the Swissotel Hotel. I found myself in this secluded spot, in the shadow of banyan trees, surrounded by some three hundred wooden phalluses ranging from lifesize to seven feet long.

The Lingam Fertility Shrine, if the name isn't obvious, is the place locals come to pray so that they can conceive children.

The setting is surreal. If I was a marketing director for Swissotel, I would capitalize on the hotel’s location and design a special “penis shrine view room.” You could set up couples with champagne and charge them as much as an average IVF cycle.

The shrine was originally dedicated to Chao Mae Tuptim, a female animist spirit who — locals believe — has been residing in the banyan tree next to the shrine for centuries. One day, the story goes, a woman came to the shrine asking for help from Chao Mae Tuptim because she couldn’t get pregnant. Nine months after visiting the temple, she gave birth to a healthy child. She was so grateful, she came back and left a giant wooden carving of penis as a way to thank the universe.

Over the years, others have followed in her footsteps. If you visit today, you will see hundreds of phallus-shaped objects, made mostly from wood and stone.

Some have bows tied around them for protection, others are dyed bright red, blue or green. All of them, however, are here with the same premise: You offer up a penis, and you, too, may undergo the miracle of conception.

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China vs. India: the battle for Buddha

LUMBINI, Nepal — For the past several months, a curious mystery has unfolded around Lumbini, the latest beachhead in the quiet battle for Buddha.

China: Dalai Lama encourages suicide, says paper

Communist newspaper says the Buddhist leader has benefited from Tibet's spate of self-immolations.
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Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama visits the Mahabodhi Temple on his way back after the conclusion of the Kalachakra Festival in Bodhgaya on January 11, 2012. Kalachakra 2012, a festival of teachings and meditations will take place from January 1, 2012 for ten days in the northern Indian state of Bihar and will be attended by Tibetan Spiritual Leader The Dalai Lama. (Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images)

Speaking of suicide as a bargaining tool, China's nationalistic Global Times newspaper is accusing the Dalai Lama of that very thing.

In an editorial on Wednesday, the newspaper scolded the Tibetan spiritual leader over the latest spate of self-immolations in the Tibet region.

Last weekend, three more people reportedly set themselves on fire in Tibetan areas of China to protest Chinese rule of Tibet. Those three deaths are only the latest in a series of protests by fire across the Tibetan plateau since late last year.

More from GlobalPost: What compels a Buddhist nun to burn herself alive?

The Global Times, often known for its vitriolic opinion pieces, heaps scorn upon the Dalai Lama, referring to "the Dalai group," and unsubtle reference to Chinese government assertions that hostile foreign forces aligned with the Dalai Lama are behind all unrest in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama hasn't set foot in China in decades, but he remains a polarizing figure for official China.

"The Dalai group has become an interest group outside China. They are exiles, but they need to survive. Therefore, they sell themselves to the West to help against China. If they only prayed and delivered sermons in foreign countries, their lives would be much worse," the newspaper wrote.

"The selfishness and ruthlessness of the Dalai group are carefully packaged by the West. The so-called 'Tibetan independence' or 'high degree of autonomy' that the Dalai group is pursuing are unreachable. They know this very well. But what they really care about is not the results but the slogans to help the West interfere in China's domestic affairs. The slogans also helped the Dalai Lama win the Nobel Peace Prize and gain considerable sums of financial support from the West."

Related: Body of self-immolated Tibetan monk "publicly paraded" in China

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Richard Gere calls China "largest hypocrisy in the world"

The actor says that China will never be able to break Tibet's spirit.
China gere tibet 2012 01 11Enlarge
US actor Richard Gere speaks at the unveiling of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama's new book 'Beyond Religion' during the last day of the Kalachakra Festival in Bodhgaya on January 10, 2012. Kalachakra 2012, a festival of teachings and meditations will take place from January 1, 2012 for ten days in the northern Indian state of Bihar and will be attended by Tibetan Spiritual Leader The Dalai Lama. (Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images)

Leave it to Richard Gere to not mince words on China and Tibet.

Gere, a longtime outspoken supporter of the Dalai Lama and critic of China's repressive rule of the region, called China "the largest hypocrisy in the world right now," in an interview with Indian television.

The Hollywood Reporter has the choice bits of the actor's takedown of China.

“Are we more interested in money or are we more interested in the truth?", Gere said during an interview with English-language channel NDTV 24x7.

"Eventually you have to bow to the will of the people and especially as their progress as an economy, education also gets higher; their interactions with the world and other people's functioning in the world, and the openness of self-expression. No one wants to live in hypocrisy, and China is the largest hypocrisy in the world right now. ”

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Body of self-immolated Tibetan monk 'publicly paraded' in China

According to witnesses, angry Tibetans demanded that police return the monk's charred remains, which they then carried through the streets.

2011: year for self-immolations

JAKARTA — On Dec. 10, an Indonesian student died from extensive burn wounds suffered after he set himself on fire, the latest victim of an extreme form of protest that gripped the world in 2011.  

Another Tibetan monk dies after self-immolation

Of the 12 self-immolations this year in protest of China, this is the first in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Is the phenomenon spreading?
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A Tibetan Buddhist monk walks on the Potala Palace square on June 19, 2009 in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. Traditionally, Lhasa is the seat of the Dalai Lama, the capital of Tibet and is the highest capital in the world. The Potala Palace was the chief residence of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala, India, in 1959. (Feng Li)

Tenzin Phuntsog, a 46-year-old Tibetan and former monk, is reported to have died Dec. 6 from burns he suffered while self-immolating on Dec. 1, according to rights groups.

BBC reports that he died in Chamdo (called Chengdu in Chinese) hospital, located in the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

More from GlobalPost: Tibet is burning

Tenzin Phuntsog is the 12th monk or nun to have self-immolated this year in protest of China's grip on Tibet. Seven of the 12 have died.

He is the first, however, to have self-immolated in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Is the phenomenon spreading?

The majority of the 12 have self-immolated in or near Kirti monastery in neighboring Sichuan province, home to many ethnic Tibetans.

The story of these Tibetan Buddhists and the apparent psychological rupture that has occurred in their community, prompting a spate of self-immolations has just been named the year's most under-reported story by Time magazine.

Video: Outcry over Tibetan self-immolations (GRAPHIC)

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