Self-immolating monk sacks publicist

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By ZHAO HUO
Tibet Correspondent

Phuntsok at a Lhasa hospital photocall yesterday

LHASA (China Daily Show) – Self-immolating monk Thangka Phuntsok says he’s packing in the fireworks, after his last conflagration failed to attract a single AP journalist.

The 23-year-old auto-arsonist dramatically sacked veteran publicist Cliff Hyde from his hospital bed on Monday night.

Phuntsok says Hyde dramatically misled him when he advised that setting himself alight on a crowded Lhasa street last week would bring worldwide media attention to the plight of the Tibetan people.

“I asked to see the clippings afterwards,” said a heavily sedated Phuntsok, currently recuperating in the serious clerical-burns unit at the No 3 Hospital of the University of Lhasa Medical College.

“Cliff handed me a press release from a one-man Hong Kong human rights operation,” Phuntsok recalled. “I nearly choked on my hospital food – unfortunately, I was being fed via a drip.”

Terminating his five-year contract with the Lhasa-based PR agency Duq & Hyde, Phuntsok expressed his appreciation for the firm’s efforts, but warned that, when a flaming fireball protest in China couldn’t make global headlines, “something has gone horribly wrong.”

Phuntosk’s was the latest in a seemingly unending wave of recent Tibetan self-immolations, aimed at bringing an end to government interference in the Buddhist religion and returning the exiled Dalai Lama to his rightful place.

But the protests have gone largely unnoticed – due in part to a security crackdown that prevents journalists from covering them. Without graphic and iconic images, publicists like Hyde say they’re hamstrung.

“On one side, you’ve got a country whose diplomatic clout means that foreign countries no longer exert the same pressure they once did over Tibet,” explained Hyde from his office. “On the other, you’ve got all this Bo Xilai stuff. It’s hard to compete with a plotline from Game of Thrones.”

“The situation has changed,” agreed Beijing-based PR guru Bill Lee. “These days, simply turning yourself into a fireball isn’t enough. If you want to get the press corps out of Jianguomen, you can’t just be an activist – you need to be a blind activist, who’s able to leap walls and crash embassy parties.”

Phuntsok said he now planned to launch a microblog to publicize future flame-ups and monitor his own campaign for justice.

“When you consider how much gasoline prices have risen,” Phuntsok croaked from behind cracked and charred lips, “it might be cheaper just to do my own publicity.”

His next move will be an online survey, asking netizens to vote on self-cremation, entitled simply ‘Hot or Not?’

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