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Tibet calls for talks with Beijing amid continued self-immolations

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The way Beijing sees it, the Dalai Lama isn't much different from Hitler, and self-immolating Tibetan monks are "separatist terrorists" who deserve to be locked up if they survive the flames.

But that didn't stop Tibet's government-in-exile Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay from calling on Beijing to enter into talks on Friday. And neither did fresh reports of Tibetans setting themselves on fire to protest China's iron grip.

"We are ready to engage in dialogue with the Chinese government anytime, anywhere, this is where we stand. But 'til the leadership transition, we will not see the clear sign or indication as to how they want to approach Tibet,'' Sangay said at a media briefing in Delhi.

Sangay's olive branch came just days after Voice of America reported that a 43-year-old blogger named Gudrup set himself on fire in Dreru, Tibet, in protest of China's oppressive policies. According to their report, witnesses said Gudrup was badly burned when he was brought to the hospital and later succumbed to his wounds. Authorities have refused to release his body to his family.

Beijing has called self-immolations "terrorist acts" carried out by separatists. Fifty-three Tibetans have set themselves on fire since March 2009. For the few that survive, a lengthy prison sentence awaits them. Releasing information about the incidents also results in prison terms.

"Tibetans who refuse to denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama or accept China's rule on Tibet are secretly killed or made to disappear," Gudrup wrote on his blog in March about the anti-China protests that have rocked southwestern China and Tibet.

Human rights monitors say Chinese security forces have shot and killed peaceful demonstrators opposed to China's rule in the past year, and Dalai Lama acolytes have long been imprisoned.

Prime Minister Sangay said the continuing self-immolations and protests signal the widespread dissatisfaction among Tibetans over what they view as Beijing's assault on their culture and religion.

"Now they are patrolling the streets of towns and cities, including villages ... [I]nstead of reforming and introducing more liberal-oriented attitude, they are cracking down more," he said.

"We do not encourage any protest inside Tibet because of harsh reality, the ones who participate in protest, you get arrested and then you go to prison, you get tortured, you get dying."

China has pinned the blame squarely on the shoulders of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Like Taiwan, China sees Tibet as a non-negotiable part of its territory.

Beijing has repeatedly accused the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner of waging a separatist war against its interests. For his part, the Dalai Lama has repeatedly stated that he is not pushing for Tibetan independence, but for greater autonomy, or what he calls "the middle way."

It's an argument China's political elite has had trouble digesting. State-run media routinely heap scorn on the leader, who as China's economic and political capital surges, has become increasingly unwelcome in the West.

In March, the government-run China Tibet Online compared him to Hitler and his polices to those of the Nazis.

"The Dalai Lama's speeches can't help but make people think of the fanatical Nazis during the second world war," said the commentary, which was also carried and later removed by state mouthpiece Xinhua news agency.

The missive went on to accuse him of working to restore serfdom to Tibet, and likened his protests over the influx of ethnic Han Chinese to Tibet as fascism.

"Behind the Dalai Lama's 'middle way' and 'high degree of autonomy' is naked ethnic expulsion. How similar this is to Hitler's cleansing of the Jews in that era!" the editorial wrote.

Within China itself, there is scant media coverage about the protests, deaths or crackdowns. Foreign journalists routinely talk about the sensitivities of the three T's: Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen, and a travel ban on Westerners to Tibet has managed to contain some of the more horrific details.

Radio Free Asia reported last week that long prison sentences were handed out to four Tibetans for supporting self-immolations and "leaking information."

According to the Washington-based broadcaster, Chinese courts doled out prison terms of between seven and 11 years to four men in September.

Self-immolations have become more frequent among Tibetans in China, particularly by monks and nuns near monasteries in Sichuan and Qinghai provinces.

People's Republic of China troops marched into Tibet in 1951, snapping 39 years of de facto independence. The Dalai Lama's India-based government in exile has yet to be recognized by a sovereign state.