A woman sits against a wall of the Kirti monastary
Beijing on Wednesday called a spate of self-immolations by Tibetan monks "terrorism in disguise" encouraged by the Dalai Lama, who led "solidarity" prayers in India for the protestors.
A Buddhist nun who burned herself to death this week became the first woman and the ninth Tibetan to set fire to themselves in southwest China in recent months, marking a dramatic escalation of the protest.
China's foreign ministry said the "Dalai group" -- a reference to the Nobel winner and his followers -- had "played up such issues to incite more people to follow suit" and had "beatified" rather than criticised the protests.
"As we know, such splittist activities at the cost of human lives is violence and terrorism in disguise," ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told journalists at a regular briefing.
In India, where the Dalai Lama has lived since fleeing Tibet in 1959, hundreds attended prayers in the exile capital of Dharamshala, while several thousand took to the streets of New Delhi to demonstrate against China.
The prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile paid tribute to the "courage" of the nine protestors who have set themselves on fire for the "cause of Tibet".
Five have died, said Lobsang Sangay during the day of prayers in Dharamshala led by the Dalai Lama to demonstrate the support of exiled Tibetans.
The ceremony was "in solidarity with those Tibetans who have sacrificed their lives for the cause of Tibet and particularly those who self-immolated, their families and those suffering repression in Tibet", Sangay said.
"We pay homage to their courage and stand in solidarity with their indomitable spirit," the Harvard academic and international law expert added.
Sangay, who won elections in March, denounced China's "colonialism and systematic destruction of the unique Tibetan culture, religion, language and environment" and criticised the "repressive policies" of Beijing.
Self-immolations by Tibetans have until recently been rare and experts say the practice -- condemned in the past by the Dalai Lama -- goes against Buddhist ideas on the sanctity of life.
"We don't encourage these really drastic and desperate acts, but at the same time we undertsand the motivation behind them," said Thubten Samphel, spokesman for the Tibet government in exile.
Kyenrab Nawa, who works at a Tibetan cultural centre in New Delhi, conceded that the violence in China was in contrast to the Dalai Lama's proposed peaceful struggle for autonomy in Tibet.
"We follow His Holiness's path of peace and non-violence, but now we have no choices left," said the 30-year-old man, expressing the frustration of many in the exile community that dialogue with China has yielded no results.
Hours after the death of the nun Tenzin Wangmo on Monday, two AFP journalists gained rare access to Aba Town, home to the Kirti monastery in southwest China which has become the flashpoint for anti-Beijing protests.
Police in full riot gear carrying automatic rifles and iron bars stood guard outside the huge monastery, one of the most important in Tibetan Buddhism, while all vehicles moving in and out of the town were being checked.
Large groups of soldiers in camouflage and carrying automatic rifles were also spotted amid a large array of police buses, trucks and armoured personnel carriers in the streets.
AFP was unable to gain access to the Kirti monastery, but reporters spoke to monks at a monastery in Hongyuan which neighbours Aba county in southwest China's Sichuan province.
Many blamed China's refusal to engage with the Dalai Lama for the wave of self-immolations and expressed fear that the protests would make their lives even more difficult.
"Tibetans long to see the Dalai Lama. Many people fear that this will not be possible. This is what is causing the problems in Kirti monastery," said one monk at the monastery.
The Dalai Lama fled to India following a failed uprising against Chinese rule and is regularly denounced by Beijing as a "splittist" intent on fomenting unrest in Tibet.
The Dalai Lama's presence in India and the anti-China protests by Tibetans are a constant irritant in the testy relations between Beijing and New Delhi, Asia's two most populous nations.