The protester wrapped himself in a Tibetan flag and lit himself as fellow demonstrators stood by ready to extinguish the fire, Shyam Gyawali, deputy superintendent of Kathmandu police, told AFP.
“A Tibetan man, who was 25 or 26 and dressed in monk’s clothing, wrapped himself with a Tibetan flag and chanted slogans saying ‘Long live free Tibet’ and he took out a lighter and set himself on fire,” Gyawali said.
“There were friends with him who immediately put it out. Police are trying to find them all.”
The protest occurred at the Boudhanath Stupa, or shrine, one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the world, where hundreds of worshippers were gathered for a religious festival. Police said the man may have suffered minor burns.
Since March there has been a series of self-immolations by Buddhist monks and nuns in southwest China, but police in Kathmandu said Thursday’s staged protest was not a suicide bid.
At least five monks and two nuns in China have died in a wave of self-immolation protests, rights groups say, with the most recent death being reported a week ago when a nun set fire to herself in Sichuan province.
A Tibetan demonstrator in the Indian capital New Delhi also set himself alight last week before police intervened.
The Dalai Lama has in the past condemned self-immolations, which many Buddhists believe are contrary to their faith, but this week said Tibetans faced “cultural genocide” under hardline Chinese rule that he blamed for the protests.
Tsewang Dolma, president of the Kathmandu-based Tibetan Youth Club, told AFP that “Tibetans in Tibet as well as in exile are desperate”.
“We believe in a non-violent, peaceful way of protesting but there is no religious freedom in Tibet,” he said. “They don’t have any choice.”
Many Tibetans in China are angry about what they see as growing domination by the country’s majority Han ethnic group.
The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, founded a government in exile in the northern Indian town of Dharamshala after being offered refuge there.
Nepal, home to around 20,000 Tibetans, is under intense pressure from Beijing over the exiles, and has repeatedly said it will not tolerate what it calls “anti-China activities”.