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Main chapel unaffected by weekend fire at Tibetan monastery


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DHARMSALA, India — A weekend fire at the sprawling Jokhang monastery in Tibet did not affect the main chapel at the 1,300-year-old religious site, considered the spiritual heart of Tibetan Buddhism, the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile said Monday.

The main Jokhang chapel houses many Tibetan cultural treasures, including the Jowo Sakyamuni, a life-sized statue of the 12-year-old Buddha.

Video on Chinese social media showed a roof in the monastery complex hit by large flames that were visible from hundreds of meters (yards) away. Saturday’s fire occurred when many Tibetans were celebrating Losar, the New Year festival that began Friday.

No injuries were reported from the blaze. The cause of the fire remained unknown.

Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the government-in-exile, who is currently visiting Japan, expressed relief that the fire did not affect the Jokhang chapel. But he cautioned Tibetans in Tibet to remain alert at large public gatherings, especially during occasions such as Losar, according to a statement by the government-in-exile.

It’s mandatory to have adequate safety measures put in place at holy sites such as Jokhang, Sangay said.

“At this point in time, I cannot comment much until the cause of the fire is brought to light, but it is disturbing to see tragic accidents take place at Jokhang temple premises, one of the most hallowed sites in Tibet and a UNESCO World Heritage Site,” said Ven Karma Gelek Yuthok, the government-in-exile’s Tibetan minister for religion and culture.

The Dalai Lama has been living in Dharmsala, a northern Indian town, since he fled from Tibet after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Beijing accuses him of seeking to separate Tibet from China, which he denies.

China doesn’t recognize the Tibetan government-in-exile and hasn’t held any dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama since 2010.