China steps up fight against Tibetan separatism

China's propaganda chief has ordered officials to intensify the fight against separatism in Tibet, a report said, following a series of self-immolations in protest at Beijing's rule.

Li Changchun, ranked fifth in the hierarchy of the ruling Communist Party, called for the campaign during an inspection tour of Lhasa, where he visited the Jokhang Temple, the centre of Tibetan Buddhism, the People's Daily reported on Sunday.

"The lifeblood of Tibet rests in ethnic unity, social harmony and stability," the paper quoted Li as saying during his visit to the Himalayan region last week.

"We must guide officials and the people to continually strengthen their understanding of the great (Chinese) motherland and people and deepen and expand the fight against separatism."

Li, China's top propaganda official, also urged an education campaign to "underscore the historic fact that Tibet is an inseparable part of China", and which should form "the ideological basis for the fight against separatism and the maintenance of stability".

During his trip, Li also visited the Potala Palace, once the home to the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's highest spiritual leader who fled Tibet following a failed uprising in 1959.

Li's comments come after a teenage Tibetan Buddhist monk self-immolated in a Tibetan-inhabited region of neighbouring southwest China last week, the 42nd Tibetan to set fire to themselves in recent months.

The 18-year old monk, identified as Lobsang Lozin, set himself alight in Bharkham county in Sichuan province, which borders Tibet, as he marched towards a government office, the India-based Central Tibetan Administration said in a statement.

The monk died on the spot, the statement said.

Tibetans have long chafed under China's rule over the vast Himalayan plateau, saying that Beijing has curbed religious freedoms and their culture is being eroded by an influx of Han Chinese, the country's main ethnic group.

Beijing, however, says Tibetans enjoy religious freedom and have benefited from improved living standards brought on by China's economic expansion.

On May 27 two men set themselves on fire in front of the Jokhang Temple, the renowned centre for Buddhist pilgrimage, in the first such incident to occur in Lhasa.

Lhasa was the scene of violent anti-Chinese government protests in 2008, which later spread to other areas inhabited by Tibetans, and authorities have kept the city under tight security ever since.

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