Tibetan New Year: 2012 Losar Celebrations ‘Cancelled’ but Rituals Remain [PHOTOS]

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  • Tibetan New Year 2012
    Monks gather to pray at the Labrang monastery prior Tibetan New Year in Xiahe county, Gansu Province February 21, 2012. Tibetans in northwest China marked a tense traditional new year on Wednesday with prayer, the sounding of gongs and subdued defiance in the wake of a string of self-immolations and protests against Chinese control. The traditional new year, or "Losar", is a combination of Buddhist ceremony and family celebration observed across the Tibetan highlands. But this year, unrest has overshadowed the celebrations and there has even been a call from an exiled Tibetan leader for people to shun festivities and instead pray for those who have suffered under Chinese rule. At least 16 Tibetans are believed to have died after setting themselves on fire in protest since March, most of them Buddhist monks in Tibetan parts of Sichuan and Gansu provinces, next to what China calls the Tibet Autonomous Region.
  • Tibetan New Year 2012
    A monk holds a picture of Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama inside of his room ahead of the Tibetan New Year which starts on Wednesday at Labrang Monastery in Xiahe county, Gansu Province February 21, 2012.
  • Tibetan New Year 2012
    Monks gather to pray at Labrang monastery prior to Tibetan New Year in Xiahe county, Gansu Province February 21, 2012.
  • Tibetan New Year 2012
    A monk reacts as he participates in a debate as part of Tibetan New Year celebrations at a temple in Langmusixiang, Sichuan Province February 22, 2012.
  • Tibetan New Year 2012
    Ethnic Tibetan residents gather outside a temple during Tibetan New Year celebrations in Langmusixiang, Sichuan Province February 22, 2012.
  • An ethnic Tibetan family arrive at a temple during Tibetan New Year celebrations in Langmusixiang
    An ethnic Tibetan family arrive at a temple during Tibetan New Year celebrations in Langmusixiang
  • Tibetan New Year 2012
    Ethnic Tibetan women pray around the Labrang Monastery ahead of the Tibetan New Year which starts on Wednesday in Xiahe county, Gansu Province, February 21, 2012.
  • Ethnic Tibetan people gather outside a temple during Tibetan New Year celebrations in Langmusixiang, Sichuan Province
    Ethnic Tibetan people gather outside a temple during Tibetan New Year celebrations in Langmusixiang, Sichuan Province
  • Tibetan New Year celebrations in Langmusixiang
    For many pilgrims, it has been a long and difficult journey
  • Tibetan New Year 2012
    A monk walks under a temple entrance during Tibetan New Year celebrations in Langmusixiang, Sichuan Province February 22, 2012.
  • Tibetan New Year 2012
    Monks gather to pray at the Labrang monastery ahead of the Tibetan New Year in Xiahe county, Gansu Province February 21, 2012.
  • Tibetan New Year 2012
    A Tibetan woman prays at a Tibetan monastery during the first day of New Year or "Losar" in Kathmandu February 22, 2012.
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Though Wednesday marks Losar, the Tibetan New Year, there will be little music, chanting, or pageantry in 2012.

Tibetans across the world were urged to observe the New Year with the solemnity their government-in-exile -- located in Dharamsala, India -- has proclaimed it deserves.

Tibet's prime minister-in-exile Lobsang Sangay issued a statement asking Tibetans to abstain from celebration.

Please do not celebrate Losar, but do observe traditional and spiritual rituals by going to the monastery, making offerings, and lighting butter lamps for all those who have sacrificed and suffered under the repressive policies of the Chinese Government, Sangay said. We once again fervently urge the Chinese government to give serious consideration to our legitimate demands and appeals we have made so far.

The new leader asked for a somber New Year because of the grim news that has cast a cloud over the mountainous region.

Twenty-two monks, nuns, and other Tibetans set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule this past year, according to the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet. The latest self-immolation occurred Saturday and involved an 18-year-old monk in front of a monastery in the village of Barma in China's Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, according to the government-in-exile.

China accuses Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, for inciting the unrest and attempting to divide China.

Chinese troops occupied Tibet in 1950 enforcing what they called a centuries-old claim over the region. The Dalai Lama fled to India nine years later after a deadly failed uprising in Lhasa and a heavy Chinese police presence remains to this day.

The Dalai Lama led New Year's prayers on Wednesday in Dharamsala as the Tibetan parliament-in-exile held a one-day solidarity hunger strike to support Tibetans in China's Autonomous Prefecture who died following recent protests.

The Chinese government claims that people are celebrating the New Year across Tibet.

The country's Tibetan-populated regions are in a party mood ... striking a stark contrast with the call by the Tibetan government-in-exile to cancel celebrations, said the English-language Global Times, which is owned by People's Daily, the ruling Communist Party's official newspaper.

However it was unclear just how many of China's six million Tibetans actually marked the event following the calls for a boycott of all non-religious revelry. Many have abstained from celebrations since 2009 following a government crackdown.

With increased conflict in the last few months, Sangay urged Tibetans to protest non-violently and legally as sensitive anniversaries and warmer weather approach.

We are extremely worried over what is happening and what might happen inside Tibet, he said in his New Year statement.

The 15-day Losar holiday is followed by the 53rd anniversary of Tibet's uprising on March 10, 1959.

Click Start to view photos of the somber start to the Tibetan New Year.

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