Losar: Tibetan New Year, and "mandatory celebrations"

Inside Tibet and elsewhere, ethnic Tibetans are today observing Losar, or Tibetan New Year. Above: Tibetan women pray around Labrang Monastery in Xiahe county, Gansu Province.

Three Tibetan Buddhist monks set have themselves on fire since Friday, in the latest reported self-immolations denouncing Chinese policies in Tibet and demanding the return of the Dalai Lama. The youngest was an 18-year-old named Nangdrol. From the Tibetan government in exile:

He died on the spot. Chinese police officers attempted to take away his body, but were prevented from doing so by the monks of Zamthang Jonang monastery. The monks later cremated him and performed all the necessary rituals and prayers for the deceased. According to eyewitnesses, while setting himself on fire Nangdrol folded his hands in a gesture of peace, calling for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet.

Police and military presence are high throughout the region, particularly at monasteries where these tragic acts of self-sacrifice have taken place. By various accounts, as many as 25 Tibetans inside Tibet have self-immolated in protest in the past two years.

Many Tibetans are abstaining from celebrating Losar, as an act of protest and of mourning for those who have burned themselves to death. In response, Communist Party officials in Lhasa have banned those boycotts, resulting in what are described as "mandatory celebrations" of Tibetan New Year. In essence, Beijing is forcing mourning Tibetans to party.

The English-language Global Times, owned by People's Daily (the Communist Party's official newspaper) published this rich line of Newspeak:

The country's Tibetan-populated regions are in a party mood as the Tibetan New Year, or Losar, falls today, striking a stark contrast with the call by the "Tibetan government in exile" to cancel celebrations.

The Losar holiday, which lasts two weeks, is followed by the 53rd anniversary of the Tibetan uprising, which took place on March 10, 1959. It's hard to imagine the climate of military intimidation and surveillance in the region ratcheting up any higher, but the uprising anniversary date typically brings just that.

In Dharamsala, India, the home of the Tibetan government in exile and the Dalai Lama, three Tibetans today began an indefinite hunger strike. Solidarity protests were held around the world.

Below, a monk in Gansu province holds up a photo of the exiled spiritual leader. In Tibet, this simple act is a crime.

More coverage around the web: Reuters, WSJ, VOA, NYT/IHT, WaPo. Louisa Lim's report from Tibet for NPR's All Things Considered is a must-listen.

(photos: REUTERS/Carlos Barria)