Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức burned himself to death at a busy crossroads in Saigon.

Quảng Đức’s self-immolation came in response to the persecution of Buddhists by the government under Diệm, who belonged to the Catholic minority and was supported by the USA. Buddhists were regularly subjected to discriminatory policies that ranged from limited access to United States aid to employment. Even the military saw some Buddhists convert in order to improve their chance of promotion.

In early May 1963 the government banned the Buddhist flag. This coincided with Phật Đản, otherwise known as Vesak, the birthday of Gautama Buddha. Buddhists were incensed by the ban and, on 8 May, a number of Buddhists in the city flew the flag and later marched on the government-controlled radio station where government troops repelled the protesters with live ammunition. Nine people were killed, but Diệm blamed the violence on the Viet Cong. His refusal to hold the local authorities to account or to grant religious equality triggered more protests around the country.

On the morning of 11 June, 350 Buddhist monks and nuns processed along the road outside the Cambodian embassy in Saigon. Thích Quảng Đức calmly emerged from a car and adopted the lotus position on a cushion in the intersection where he was doused in petrol from a five-gallon can. After chanting a prayer he struck a match and his body was engulfed in flames.

Photographs of the act shocked the world, and increased international pressure on Diệm who failed to implement reforms that he promised in the aftermath. On 1 November he was overthrown in a coup and assassinated the following day.

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