BEIJING (AP) -- A 19-year-old follower of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement set himself on fire on a city square in southern China and died the next day, state media said Monday. Luo Guili died in a hospital of severe burns and heart and lung failure on July 2 in Nanning, the Xinhua News Agency said. It did not say why authorities waited three weeks to announce his death. Nanning, capital of southern China's Guangxi region, is 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) south of Beijing. China says at least four Falun Gong practitioners have killed themselves by self-immolation since the government outlawed the group two years ago. In January, five purported Falun Gong followers poured gasoline over themselves and ignited it on Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Two died. Three weeks later, a 25-year-old man China said followed Falun Gong also set fire to himself on a Beijing street and died. The government sought to use the deaths to buttress its claims that Falun Gong is a dangerous cult. Falun Gong representatives questioned whether the victims were genuine followers, saying the group's teachings forbid suicide. Xinhua said Luo started practicing Falun Gong in 1996 as a student at Guangxi's Light Industry School. After meditating for a while on the square in Nanning on July 1, Luo pulled two plastic bottles of alcohol from a bag, doused himself and ignited it before guards and police could stop him, Xinhua said.
Luo said later in hospital that "he was trying to burn off the evil hidden in his body so as to reach a higher level in Falun Gong practice," Xinhua said. Falun Gong attracted millions of followers in the 1990s with a blend of slow-motion exercises and ideas drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the group's exiled leader, Li Hongzhi. Followers say practice promotes health, moral living and even supernatural powers. Thousands of followers are in jails and labor camps and tens of thousands have been arrested and pressured to renounce the group in the government crackdown. Falun Gong says many followers have been tortured and that 250 have been killed. The government banned Falun Gong as a threat to Communist Party rule and Chinese society. It accuses Falun Gong of cheating followers and causing 1,600 deaths, mostly of practitioners who it says refused medical treatment according to what it claims are the group's teachings.
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