DHARMSALA, India – The Dalai Lama said Sunday the recent anti-government demonstrations in Tibet were "outbursts of long pent-up physical and mental anguish" that proved most Tibetans want freedom from Chinese rule.
In a strongly worded statement, the Tibetan spiritual leader said people in Tibet felt "deep resentment against the suppression of the rights of Tibetan people (and) lack of religious freedom."
He also accused Chinese authorities, who have repeatedly blamed him for the unrest, of "trying to distort the truth at every occasion." He blamed China for using violence in its crackdown on protests.
Chinese authorities say 22 people died in the anti-Beijing riots that broke out March 14 in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. The self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile, led by the Dalai Lama, says up to 140 were killed in the protests and ensuing crackdown.
Last week, eight people were killed when police or paramilitary police opened fire on a protest in Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in nearby Sichuan province, overseas activist groups reported.
China has accused the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, of orchestrating the violence to sabotage the Beijing Olympic Games in August and create an independent state.
On Sunday, the Dalai Lama said he was saddened that people had been killed in the violence, but he praised the protesters because they had "demonstrated their deep anguish and hopes by risking everything."
He said the protests "shattered the (Chinese) propaganda that except for a few 'reactionaries,' the majority of Tibetans enjoy a prosperous and contented life."
"The protests have also conveyed to the world that the Tibet issue can no longer be neglected," he added.
The protests are the longest and most sustained challenge to China's 57-year rule in the Himalayan region. They have also focused increased international scrutiny and criticism on China in the run-up to this summer's Olympic Games.
On Sunday, the Dalai Lama repeated his support for the Olympics and said Tibetans should not disrupt the games.
"It will be futile and not helpful to anyone if we do something that will create hatred in the minds of the Chinese people," he said.
He also repeated his long-held support for nonviolence and for autonomy, not independence for Tibet.
The Dalai Lama has been based in India since fleeing his Himalayan homeland in 1959 during a failed uprising against Chinese rule. China claims Tibet has been its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of that period.