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Tibetan exile lights self on fire at anti-China protest in India

STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images

Jamphel Yeshi, who escaped from Tibet in 2006, sustained burns on 98 percent of his body and was in critical condition.

NEW DELHI — A Tibetan exile lit himself on fire and ran shouting through a demonstration in the Indian capital Monday, just ahead of a visit by China’s president and amid a series of self-immolations done inside Tibet to protest Beijing’s rule.

Indian police, who had already tightened security in New Delhi for President Hu Jintao’s visit, swept through the protest a few hours later, detaining scores of Tibetans.

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The man apparently had doused himself with something highly flammable and was fully in flames when he ran past the podium where speakers were criticizing China and Hu’s visit.

Fellow activists beat out the flames with Tibetan flags and poured water onto him. He was on fire perhaps less than two minutes, but some of his clothing had disintegrated and he was severely burned.

The man, identified as Jamphel Yeshi, sustained burns on 98 percent of his body and was hospitalized in critical condition, according to the Association of Tibetan Journalists.

Protesters initially prevented police from taking him to the hospital, but officers eventually forcibly took him away.

Yeshi, 27, escaped from Tibet in 2006 and had been living in New Delhi for the past two years, activists said.

Hu is expected to arrive in India on Wednesday for a five-nation economic summit.

While activists had been whispering Monday morning that something dramatic was expected at the protest, organizers insisted they were not behind the self-immolation.

“We have no idea how this happened, but we appreciate the courage,’’ said Tenzing Norsang, an official with the Tibetan Youth Congress. He called on participants at the summit to discuss Tibet.

The New Delhi protest comes amid a series of self-immolations inside Tibet. About 30 people — many of them monks or nuns, and often in their teens or early 20s — set themselves on fire over the past year, calling for the return to Tibet of the Dalai Lama and to protest Chinese rule over their homeland.

The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet amid a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule, has blamed China’s “ruthless policy’’ for the self-immolations. China accuses the Dalai Lama of stirring up trouble.

At the site of the protest, a large poster of Hu — with a bloody palm print over his face — read: “Hu Jin Tao is unwelcome’’ at the summit.

More than 600 demonstrators marched across New Delhi to protest Hu’s visit.

China says Tibet has always been part of its territory. Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries.

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