DHARMSALA, India — The political leader of the exiled Tibetan community accused China of violating human rights and leading Tibetans to commit "desperate" acts in demanding freedom, as he marked the 22nd anniversary Saturday of the Dalai Lama's Nobel Peace Prize.
At least 12 Tibetan monks, nuns and former monks have set themselves on fire this year — most in Tibetan areas of China's Sichuan province — in what are seen as acts of desperation in the face of tightening Chinese controls over Tibetan life and culture.
"The human rights situation in Tibet has deteriorated so significantly that Tibetans are resorting to desperate and unprecedented acts," Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay said in Dharmsala, India, where the exiled Tibetan community is based.
Hundreds attended the speech at Tsuglakhang Temple in the community's annual Dec. 10 commemoration of the 1989 Nobel award given to the Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader, for his commitment to peaceful means in resolving the Tibetan issue.
The Dalai Lama himself was visiting Prague on Saturday on an invitation from former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel.
"To the government of China, we want to say that the only way to bring about real peace and stability in Tibet is by respecting the fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people," Sangay told his audience, which included bagpipe-playing Tibetan artists.
China says Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries. Today, they call for the return of the Dalai Lama, who fled to India during an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.
Though he remains the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama formally stepped down in May as head of the Tibetan government-in-exile, giving up the political power that he and his predecessors had wielded over Tibetans for hundreds of years.
Chinese authorities routinely deny Tibetan claims of repression, although they have confirmed some self-immolations and accused supporters of the Dalai Lama of encouraging such acts.