According to rights groups, two women have set themselves alight in China over the weekend, raising the number of self-immolations to at least 25 in the past year.
According to the London-based Free Tibet group, the girl, who is said to be between 16 and 19 years of age, set herself on fire on Saturday at a vegetable market in Maqu county in the Tibetan-inhabited Gansu province.
It was the second self-immolation incident at the weekend. On Sunday, a widowed mother of four also set herself alight in China's restive Sichuan province, rights groups said.
China's claims of stability and religious freedom
The weekend self-immolations coincide with China's annual parliamentary meeting in which Chinese leaders are discussing economy, social stability and defense, among other issues. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, in his opening speech on Monday, vowed to "protect the lawful rights and interests of religious groups".
The 10-day National People's Congress also coincide with the anniversaries of Tibetan's spiritual leader the Dalia Lama's exile in 1959 and of violent riots in 2008 that started in Tibetan regional capital of Lhasa and later spread to other Tibetan areas.
Human rights organizations say at least 25 people have burned themselves alive in predominantly Tibetan-inhabited areas over the past year, negating Beijing's claims of stability and religious freedom. Mostly taking place in Sichuan, most of these people have self-immolated in protest over China's oppressive rule.
Tibetans continue to protest
Tibetans have long protested against the Chinese government's religious and cultural oppression. Beijing denies these allegations and says Tibetan protests are incited by overseas groups. Beijing insists that Tibetans enjoy religious freedom and the China's economic expansion has improved the living standards of most Tibetans.
The situation is particularly grave in the Greater Tibet Region - the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), home to about 2.7 million Tibetans, as well as Tibetan counties in the four neighboring provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai and Yunnan, where close to 3.5 million Tibetans live.
International human rights groups report up to 100 instances of protests and disturbances in TAR, particularly in western Sichuan, since mid-2011.
Germany criticizes China
Last month, on her trip to China, the German chancellor Angela Merkel said that her country's relations with China had improved but expressed regret that Beijing had forbidden a prominent civil rights activist from meeting with her.
"We spoke about the overall situation of human rights," Merkel said. "The issue of Tibet also came up as one of many subjects that certainly gave us concern."
Author: Shamil Shams (AFP, AP)
Editor: Sarah Berning