BEIJING, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Chinese security forces shot into a crowd of Tibetans in southwestern Sichuan province, killing a 20-year-old student, as protesters sought to prevent the arrest of another youth, Tibetan advocacy groups said on Friday.
Protests by ethnic Tibetans, who accuse Han Chinese authorities of stifling their traditions and religious freedoms, have been gathering pace in the mountainous region since Monday, the start of the Chinese lunar new year.
According to the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, security forces in Rangtang in Aba prefecture arrested a youth on Thursday, after he put his name and photo on leaflets stating that Tibetan self-immolations were in support of a free Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama.
Others gathered to try to block his arrest, confronting police, at which point police fired shots into the crowd and killed a youth named Urgen, according to the account.
Over the past year, there have been at least 16 incidents of Tibetans setting themselves on fire in response to Beijing's grip over Tibetan affairs.
Tibet's government in exile in Dharamsala in northern India has denounced as “gruesome” the shootings that have killed an estimated 7 people and injured more than 60 in the past week.
It has been impossible to verify the accounts independently. Security was also reported to be tight in Tibet, where he said one person was arrested on Wednesday, and other surrounding provinces with large Tibetan populations.
He said that rather than mark the Lunar New Year, the most important holiday of the year for Han Chinese, Tibetans were marking the occasion by honouring the memories of those who had taken their own lives in acts of protest.
China has ruled what it calls the Tibet Autonomous Region since Communist troops marched in in 1950. It rejects criticism that it is eroding Tibetan culture and faith, saying its rule has ended serfdom and brought development to a backward region.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.