BEIJING — Two men engulfed themselves in towering flames outside a temple that is a popular tourist site in Lhasa, marking the first time a recent wave of self-immolations to protest Chinese rule has reached the tightly guarded Tibetan capital, two U.S. broadcasters reported Monday.
Radio Free Asia said in a statement that the men were taken away by authorities within minutes of setting themselves on fire Sunday outside the Jokhang Temple.
There have been at least 34 immolations since March of last year to draw attention to China's restrictions on Buddhism and to call for the return from exile of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Most have taken place in heavily Tibetan areas of China, but only one had occurred in Tibet itself and none in the capital.
Protests have become rare in remote Tibet and Lhasa in particular because of tight police security that has blanketed the area since anti-government riots erupted in Lhasa in 2008.
Radio Free Asia cited a Tibetan living in exile as saying he had heard from others inside Tibet that huge flames had engulfed the two men and that they were believed to be seriously hurt or dead.
RFA said the men in Sunday's protest were believed to be monks but their identities and personal details were not immediately available.
U.S.-funded radio broadcaster Voice of America reported that the two men worked at a Lhasa restaurant called Nyima Ling. It identified one of the men as 19-year-old Dorjee Tseten but was unable to give the name or age of the other.
A woman with the Lhasa city police denied any immolation attempts had occurred. Like many Chinese bureaucrats, she refused to give her name.
Fu Jun, an official with the propaganda department of the Tibetan regional Communist Party office, said he was unaware of any immolations.
Radio Free Asia said Lhasa was under heavy police and paramilitary guard and that the situation was very tense.
Chinese authorities have confirmed some of the self-immolations over the past year but not all.