China says Falun Gong member burns himself to death

Reuters/February 16, 2001

Beijing -- A member of China's banned Falun Gong spiritual movement died on Friday after setting himself ablaze in a Beijing neighbourhood that is home to several Communist Party leaders, state media reported.

State television showed police lifting the charred body of a man it said doused himself with petrol at 12:06 p.m. (0406 GMT) in the western Beijing neighbourhood, adding that a six-page suicide note linked the man to Falun Gong.

The incident took place four days before International Olympic Committee officials are due in Beijing to evaluate the city's bid for 2008 Games.

It followed a January 23 incident in Beijing's central Tiananmen Square during which five people China says were Falun Gong members set themselves ablaze. One woman died of her burns and four, including a girl aged 12, were critically injured.

State television and the official Xinhua news agency identified the dead man in Friday's incident as Tan Yihui, a 25-year-old shoe-polisher from the central province of Hunan.

"He poured a container of gasoline on his head, flicked a lighter and burst into flame," the television report quoted a witness on Beijing's Wanshoulu as saying.

Police arrived immediately and put out the fire with extinguishers but Tan was already dead, the reports said.

The reports said police found next to Tan's body his identification card, a train ticket from the Hunan capital Changsha and a six-page suicide note saying his death was inspired by the teachings of Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi.

"Forget about life and death and achieve perfection in paradise," state television quoted the letter as saying.

China has seized on the self-immolation incidents to support its contention that Falun Gong is a doomsday cult which endangers followers. Falun Gong spokespeople maintain that the five who set themselves ablaze in January were not members of the group.

Falun Gong members have protested almost daily in Tiananmen Square since the movement was outlawed in July 1999 and China's often harsh treatment of protesters has provoked widespread international concern.

Human rights groups say more than 100 Falun Gong followers have died of police beatings and other abuse. The sect says tens of thousands of its mainland members have been sent to labour camps without trial.

China vowed on Monday to "fight the war to the end" against Falun Gong, which its says has plotted to overthrow Communist rule and has caused the deaths of 1,800 followers through suicide or by forbidding them from seeking medical treatment for illnesses.

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