Tibetans will not be celebrating the new year of Losar on Wednesday, in protest of Chinese rule, AFP reported.
Lobsang Sangay, Tibet's prime minister-in-exile, issued a statement urging Tibetans to refrain from celebration, CNN reported.
"But do observe traditional and spiritual rituals by going to the monastery, making offerings and lighting butter lamps for all those who have sacrificed and suffered under the repressive policies of Chinese government," Sangay said.
Chinese authorities have implemented what some experts say are unprecedented measures of control in many Tibetan regions of the country, AFP reported, including blocking off Tibetan areas to non-Chinese with roadblocks and paramilitary police, according to the few reporters who have made it to Aba, the site of one of the largest monasteries in Sichuan province, the Daily Mail reported.
China's government has also installed "management committees" at every Tibetan monastery to "oversee affairs," the Tibetan United Front Work department told the Daily Mail.
In response, monks, nuns and other Tibetans have been self-immolating to protest Chinese rule, according to the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet. So far this year, 22 Tibetans have committed suicide by lighting themselves on fire, CNN reported.
The latest incident occurred Saturday when an 18-year-old monk self-immolated in front of a monastery in the village of Barma, according to CNN.
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For Tibetan Buddhists, taking one's own life is seen as a negative action with serious spiritual consequences, yet Tibetans have not condemning these acts, and many see the self-immolations as a supreme sacrifice, according to the Huffington Post.
Many Tibetans feel that China is suppressing their religion and causing a gradual erosion of their culture, which they blame on a growing influx of majority Han Chinese in the areas they live in, AFP reported. China denies these allegations, saying that Tibetans are leading better lives due to huge Chinese investments in infrastructure, schools and housing.
Losar is a three-day Tibetan festival that mixes sacred and secular practices, including prayers, ceremonies, hanging prayer flags, sacred folk dancing, and partying. It takes place on the first day of the lunar calendar, and this year falls on Wednesday, February 22nd.
China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported that Lhasa's major commercial streets had been crowded with shoppers buying beef, yak butter and tea bricks for Losar, effectively denying reports of non-celebrations, AFP reported.
"Tibetans would now be getting ready for parties, family get-togethers, lots of food and drink," Kate Saunders, spokeswoman for the International Campaign for Tibet, told AFP. "But this year... Tibetans have decided not to celebrate but to honor those who have died, particularly through self-immolations, by offering prayers and paying solemn respect to the traditions of their culture."
In the United States, several Tibetan associations canceled Losar festivities, one of the biggest annual festivities for Tibetans.
"It means much more than Losar," Tsepak Rigzin, program director at the Drepung Loseling center in Atlanta, told CNN. "It's a symbol of our integrity. It means sharing the suffering and pain of our brothers and sisters of Tibet."
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