BEIJING (AP) -- A provincial Communist Party chief warned Tibetan monks and residents to oppose separatism and obey the law as he visited a monastery and restive communities that have been at the center of many recent self-immolation protests, a local newspaper said Friday.
Earlier this week, Sichuan Communist Party chief Liu Qibao visited Aba and Ganzi prefectures, the Sichuan Daily newspaper said Friday. The two predominantly Tibetan regions in western Sichuan are where most of the 21 Tibetan self-immolations over the past year have taken place.
The immolations have set off a cycle of further repression that in turn has touched off large-scale protests in recent weeks.
"We should resolutely crack down on separatist activities and crimes of all kinds, uphold state unification, ethnic unity and the normal legal order. This upholds the basic interests of the people and upholds their religious freedom," Liu said, according to the report.
The paper said Liu met with police and soldiers stationed in the region, where security has long been smothering. Police are often stationed around monasteries and manning roadblocks to check documents and turn away unauthorized travelers. The heavy policing is driving some to radical acts to protest Chinese rule, such as setting themselves on fire.
During his visit to the Kirti Monastery in Aba, Liu asked monks to support the leadership of the Communist Party and be law-abiding.
The monastery, where tensions between monks and the authorities have been high for months, is under tight guard by security forces who have been accused by overseas pro-Tibetan groups of beating onlookers and detaining monks. The area is off-limits to foreign journalists.
"Everyone is equal before the law. No matter whether you are a monk or a nun, you are a citizen first," Liu was quoted as saying. "There are no monasteries outside the law, nor are there individuals outside the law."
In an apparent reference to the self-immolations, Liu said that according to Buddhist teachings, life is precious and "there should be no reason to destroy an innocent life."
He told senior clerics to teach the younger monks to "cherish all living things, cherish their health and cherish their lives."