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Tibetan Exiles Rally Around Delhi Self-Immolator

By EDWARD WONG,DHARAMSALA, India,NYTimes:  By Tuesday afternoon, posters of the man in flames were plastered along the narrow streets of this town adopted by Tibetan exiles. Monks, merchants and tourists stared. In the early evening, more than 200 people walked through the town center waving Tibetan flags and carrying banners that proclaimed the critically injured man, Jamphel Yeshi, a martyr.The shocking images of Mr. Yeshi’s self-immolation in New Delhi on Monday have provided the Tibetan exile movement with a rallying point and an iconic expression of the anger and frustration that Tibetans suffer over Chinese rule. At least 29 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in Tibetan areas of China since March 2011, and many have died. But Chinese security forces have clamped down across the plateau, so only a handful of the self-immolations have been recorded and transmitted, and only in grainy cellphone photographs or video.

Mr. Yeshi burned himself in front of hundreds of people, during a protest largely by Tibetans before a visit by President Hu Jintao of China, who was scheduled to fly to New Delhi on Wednesday to attend an economic summit meeting. Mr. Yeshi was taken to a hospital with burns over 98 percent of his body, and word of the self-immolation spread quickly through Dharamsala, a hill station in northern India that is the home of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, and the government-in-exile.

On Tuesday, images of Mr. Yeshi proliferated on walls here. One gruesome poster showed his ravaged body in the hospital. A cousin, Sonam Wangyal, visited him and mourned his terrible injuries, The Associated Press reported. But he also said: “We are fighting for freedom. The world should know this.”

Details about Mr. Yeshi’s life emerged. Many initial reports that were largely based on Indian police accounts said his first name was Jampa and gave his age as 26, but Tibetan organizations here said with certainty that he was Jamphel Yeshi, 27. Fellow exiles said he was from the Ganzi area in the eastern Tibetan region of Kham, which now lies in China’s Sichuan Province. He left in 2006 and made his way to Dharamsala, where he attended a school that educates refugees in Tibetan history, culture and language. Mr. Yeshi then settled in New Delhi, where he was unemployed and lived with his cousin, The A.P. said.

“He self-immolated for the cause of Tibet,” said Tenzing Namdak, 36, a man in jeans and a tan jacket walking at the back of the march on Tuesday. “All the Tibetans have tried so many ways to get attention, and somebody had to take the lead.”

The crowd that strode through upper Dharamsala, officially called McLeod Ganj, pumped fists in the air and chanted slogans: “What do we want? Freedom!” “United Nations, please support us.” “Stop the killing.” The march was organized by the Gu Chu Sum Movement of Tibet, which calls itself an association of former political prisoners.

Marchers said they wanted to express support for Mr. Yeshi and opposition to Mr. Hu, who was to attend a meeting of the leaders of Brazil, Russia, South Africa and India in New Delhi on Wednesday and Thursday. Black posters put up days ago throughout town showed Mr. Hu’s unsmiling face with a bloody handprint over it, and called for people to attend the rally in New Delhi on Monday. Many Tibetans had taken a 12-hour bus ride from Dharamsala to take part in that protest, which drew about 600 people, Mr. Yeshi among them.

China blames the self-immolations on the Dalai Lama. On Tuesday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted by The A.P. as saying that the Dalai Lama and his associates had “single-handedly” planned Mr. Yeshi’s act.

The images of Mr. Yeshi on fire electrified not only Tibetan exiles here in India but also those around the world. Within hours, the pictures had been posted on blogs and social networking sites. “It was all over Facebook today; everyone was talking about it,” said one young man working for a research organization in Dharamsala who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared Chinese retribution against his family members in Tibet.

As twilight settled over the hills here on Tuesday, the march wound through the marketplace, along hillsides and past the Dalai Lama’s temple. At 6:50, people walked into a courtyard and listened to the organizers give speeches denouncing the decades-long Chinese occupation.

“We sympathize with Jamphel Yeshi’s self-immolation,” said a Tibetan monk, Lobsang, 32, who had traveled from Nepal. “He offered himself for the freedom of six million Tibetans.”

A couple of Indian police officers watched from the side. One by one, people in the crowd lit candles for Mr. Yeshi. Two lines of prayer flags fluttered overhead.

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