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Reports: Thousands of Tibetans attend funeral of farmer who set himself afire in protest

A Tibetan farmer burned himself to death in southwestern China on Saturday, the latest in a wave of self-immolations protesting against Beijing's control over Tibetan areas of the country, a rights group said.

Several thousand Tibetans attended Sonam Thargyal's funeral on the same day, many of them protesting against Chinese rule, UK-based Free Tibet said.

He was the third person reported to have set himself alight in four days and the 30th in the past year. At least twenty of those protesters have died of their injuries, say rights groups.

China's government has described people who set themselves alight as "terrorists."

Activists say China violently stamps out religious freedom and culture in Tibet, the mountainous region of western China which has been under Chinese control since 1950.

China rejects criticism that it is eroding Tibetan culture and faith, saying its rule has ended serfdom and brought development to a backward region.

Sonam, a father of three in his 40s, set himself alight on Saturday morning near the town centre of Rongwo, in Tongren county, Qinghai province, UK-based Free Tibet said. He died on the scene, Free Tibet and Radio Free Asia said.

Sonam was a close friend of Jamyang Palden, a monk in his 30s who set himself on fire near the Rongwo Monastery on Wednesday and is believed to be alive but critically ill, Free Tibet said.

Following his death Saturday morning, several thousand Tibetans gathered in Rongwo for his cremation, and a number then marched into the town centre calling for freedom, the group said.

"This is the biggest gathering of people I have ever seen in this place. People are pouring in from the villages," it quoted one unnamed eyewitness as saying.


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