BEIJING (Reuters) - The Tibetan government-in-exile has colluded with Western governments to distort a recent string of police shootings in Tibetan areas of China in a bid to discredit the government, an official Chinese newspaper said Monday.
Protests by ethnic Tibetans, who accuse Chinese authorities of stifling their traditions and religious freedoms, have gathered pace in the mountainous frontiers of southwestern Sichuan province that border on Tibet proper since last Monday.
Tibetan advocacy groups say as many as seven Tibetans have been shot dead and more than 60 wounded when protests in the region were quelled by police and security forces, but China's official Xinhua news agency reported that police fired in self-defense on "mobs" that stormed police stations.
An editorial in China's official English-language China Daily said exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing brands a "splittist," was eager to stir up trouble to garner Western support.
"In today's world, a handful of extremists have the ability to cause havoc to a region or even a country," the China Daily said, adding that the Dalai Lama "is financed and supported by some Western governments and media with their own agenda against China."
"As usual, Western government officials and the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile spared no effort in taking the opportunity to criticize the Chinese central government," the paper said.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He says he advocates a peaceful resolution of the Tibet dispute and wants authentic autonomy for Tibet, not independence.
Independent verification of what happened in the protests and the shootings is impossible, with government travel restrictions on the region and security checkpoints along roads barring journalists and others from reaching the area.
U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Maria Otero said in a statement after the first two shootings last week that the United States was "gravely concerned" about the reports of violence.
The editorial underscored the potential international ructions that could follow from continued unrest in Tibetan areas, where protests and riots in 2008 triggered international criticism of Beijing, which was then met by vehement nationalist condemnation by many Han Chinese.
The Dalai Lama's efforts to kidnap the broader interests of Tibetans for selfish political motives are "doomed to failure," the editorial said.
Over the past year, there have been at least 16 incidents of Tibetans setting themselves on fire in response to Beijing's grip over Tibetan affairs.
China has ruled what it calls the Tibet Autonomous Region since Communist troops marched in in 1950. It rejects criticism that it is eroding Tibetan culture and faith, saying its rule has ended serfdom and brought development to a backward region.
The Tibetan government-in-exile has its headquarters in Dharamsala in northern India, and says it speaks for the authentic aspirations of the Tibetan people.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Ken Wills)