Young Tibetan mothers among those who set themselves on fire

June 6, 2013

A young Tibetan mother’s self immolation is investigated, the ultra-Orthodox clash with secular Jews in Israel, and Erdogan takes a slightly softer attitude towards protesters. Today is Thursday, June 6, commemorated by many as D-Day. This is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.

A Tibetan woman walks around a stone carving inscribed with Tibetan words as she prays in Barma township, where Kalkyi had lived and set herself on fire in protest against Chinese rule, May 16, 2013. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Devout mother’s self-immolation surprises family. The March suicide of a young mother in Tibet highlights a trend of lay people setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule over their country.

On the chilly afternoon of March 24, Kalkyi – who like some Tibetans went by just one name – stood outside the monastery gates with about 200 to 300 other worshippers. She doused herself with gasoline and lit a match. Flames instantly engulfed her, and as they did, she shouted words that no one could make out. Witnesses say it took less than 15 minutes for the blaze to kill Kalkyi. She was 30 years old. It was the ninth time in just over a year that a Tibetan mother had set herself on fire, an especially startling statistic to emerge from a grisly campaign of suicidal political defiance that shows no sign of ending.

At least 117 Tibetans committed acts of self-immolation since 2009. At first, the practice was used by monks, nun and former clergy, mostly in reaction to specific cases of abuse within certain monasteries. But of the 100 people who used the tactic since 2012, roughly two-thirds were unaffiliated individuals taking a stand for Tibet’s independence. Beijing considers self-immolators “terrorists” and accused Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader Dalai Lama of providing money for the families of the dead. The Dalai Lama does not encourage the practice, but has said self-immolation is “understandable.”

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks past a street poster in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, inviting the public to a protest against government plans to draw more ultra-Orthodox men into the conscript army, June 3, 2013. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Israel’s internal battle. Israeli officials hope to pass a bill by August that will force many ultra-Orthodox Jews into the army in an effort to bring the growing population of Haredi Jews into the productive mainstream:

Often living in de-facto ghettos of their own making, the majority of Haredi men are allowed to shun the army and dedicate their life to religious study, living off donations, state benefits and the often meager wages of wives, many of whom work. In a country where most 18-year-old Jewish men and women are conscripted, to maintain a standing and reserve army over 600,000 strong, such treatment is causing growing resentment – something Yesh Atid successfully tapped into at an election in January, helping it become the second largest party in Israel. As a result, Haredim parties were cast into opposition for only the second time since 1977, leaving angry ultra-Orthodox to warn that the rule of law cannot trump the rabbis’ word.

Ideological clashes between secular and religious Jews are an added strain on Israeli society, which must juggle internal strife with regional threats. Under the new law, only 1,800 of the 8,000 conscription-age ultra-Orthodox men would be granted exemption from the army. Members of the religious community are currently embroiled in a battle with a feminist group over women’s access to the holy Western Wall.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference in Tunis, June 6, 2013. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi 

Erdogan won’t back down. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday the government will move forward with plans to destroy Istanbul’s Gezi Park despite demonstrations, but walked back blanket criticism of the protesters:

Speaking on a visit to Tunisia, Erdogan said “terror groups” were manipulating what had started as an environmental campaign, and added that seven foreigners were among those arrested. “If you say: ‘I will hold a meeting and burn and destroy’, we will not allow that,” he told reporters after meeting his Tunisian counterpart. “We are against the majority dominating the minority and we cannot tolerate the opposite.” By confining his comments to a group of protesters, Erdogan appeared softer in tone than before he left for North Africa at the start of the week, when he described the demonstrators in blanket terms as looters.

Erdogan is greeted by demands that he fire the officers who ordered riot police’s violent response to protesters upon his return to Turkey today. Roughly 4,000 have been injured and three killed over six days of protests, and the Turkish economy is taking a hit over the unrest. Still, protesters in Gezi offer food, tea and yoga lessons, showing no sign of wavering in light of Erdogan’s firm attitude.

Nota Bene: Russia’s stance on Syria is a game of smoke and mirrors.


A cry for worker fairness – Senator Robert Menendez argues that the collapse of Rana Plaza must sound the alarm over U.S. standards in Bangladesh. (Reuters)

Cell saver – Egyptian surgeons used light from their mobile phones to perform an operation in a blackout. (BBC)

Silver lining? – In Italy, bank robberies fell as the economy plummeted in 2012. (Quartz)

Elephant man – Obama could use his time with Chinese President Xi Jinping to fight for elephants by addressing China’s demand for ivory. (The Atlantic)

Tax victory – Germany grants married gay couples tax breaks. (The Associated Press)

From the File:

  • Assad’s capture of the strategic town of Qusair risks turning Syria’s civil war into a larger sectarian battle.
  • IMF apology is too little, too late for some hurt by a botched Greek bailout.
  • Bangladesh suppliers feel abandoned after Wal-Mart ban.
  • North and South Korea will hold talks for the first time since 2011 in an attempt to repair ties.
  • China is committed to faster economic reform and opposes protectionism.
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