Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has condemned a “rule of terror” in his homeland as Chinese forces stepped up security in Lhasa and pro-independence protests spread.
A fresh protest in southwest China's Sichuan province reportedly left at least seven people dead in a dangerous escalation of the uprising by Tibetans against China's rule of the vast Himalayan region.
The violence, previously confined mainly to the Tibetan capital Lhasa, has left at least 80 people dead, according to Tibet's government-in-exile, although the official death toll in China's state-run media remained at 10.
The unrest is a huge crisis for China as it tries to present a peaceful image ahead of the Beijing Olympics, but it nevertheless vowed on Sunday to wage a “people's war” against the influence of the exiled Dalai Lama.
Dalai Lama calls for probe
Speaking from his base in Dharamshala, India, the revered Buddhist spiritual leader launched a scathing criticism of China's 57-year rule of Tibet and called for an international probe into the unrest.
“Whether intentionally or unintentionally, some cultural genocide is taking place,” the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner told reporters.
“They simply rely on using force in order to simulate peace, a peace brought by force using a rule of terror.
“Please investigate, if possible… some international organisation can try firstly to inquire about the situation in Tibet.”
Tibetan officials rejected the Dalai Lama's comments, Chinese state media reported.
“'The rule of terror in Tibet', as Dalai claimed, was downright nonsense,” said an official identified only as Legqoi, deputy director of the Standing Committee of the Tibetan Regional People's Congress, according to the Xinhua news agency.
In the protest in Sichuan, which borders Tibet, at least seven people were killed when police shot at hundreds of rioting Tibetans in the town of Ngawa, a resident and two activist groups with contacts there told news agency AFP.
This followed two consecutive days of protest at the Labrang monastery in northwest China's Gansu province, which like Sichuan has a large ethnic Tibetan population.
Meanwhile, foreigners in Lhasa reported a massive security presence still in place, as Hong Kong television footage showed heavily armed security forces patrolling the city.
Despite official Chinese claims of calm in Lhasa, foreigners who flew out of the city reported hearing repeated gunfire on Saturday.
“I heard muffled gunshot fire. There was no question about it,” one tourist, Gerald Flint, a former US marine who runs a medical non-government organisation, told reporters at Chengdu airport in Sichuan.
Mr Flint said security forces poured into Lhasa on Saturday but that there was still “chaos” on the streets.
The worst reported violence occurred on Friday, when Tibetans rampaged through the regional capital, destroying Chinese businesses and torching police cars.
Despite being under intense international pressure to show restraint, China's communist government indicated it was in no mood to compromise.
“We must wage a people's war to beat splittism and expose and condemn the malicious acts of these hostile forces and expose the hideous face of the Dalai Lama group to the light of day,” the Tibetan Daily said.
Eyewitness reports have said protesters on Friday chanted support for independence and the Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland in 1959 following a failed uprising and is still revered by the Tibetan Buddhist faithful.
Deadline for demonstrators
China has set a deadline of Monday at midnight for those involved in the demonstrations to surrender.
With Lhasa sealed off to foreign journalists, independent information was scarce, making it impossible to determine exactly how many people were killed.
China has been regularly blacking out the domestic feed of CNN whenever it runs a story about the Tibet unrest.
On Sunday, access to YouTube in China was also denied after footage of the protests in Tibet appeared on the video posting site.
Tibetan rights groups said the protests — which marked the anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising — were an outpouring of frustration at decades of brutal Chinese rule.
China sent troops into Tibet in 1950 to “liberate” the region and officially annexed it a year later.
The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his peaceful resistance to Chinese rule and insists he does not want independence for Tibet, rather greater cultural autonomy and an end to repression.
In a newspaper interview, International Olympic Committee vice-president Thomas Bach said a number of top athletes were considering boycotting the games in China over the bloody crackdown on protesters in Tibet.
The Dalai Lama said the Games should go on, but also said China needed to be “reminded to be a good host.”