NARITA, Japan – The Dalai Lama said he supports China's hosting of the Summer Olympics on Thursday, but insisted that nobody had the right to tell protesters demanding freedom for Tibet "to shut up."
"We are not anti-Chinese. Right from the beginning, we supported the Olympic games," he told reporters outside Tokyo on a stopover on a trip to Seattle. "I really feel very sad the government demonizes me. I am just a human, I am not a demon."
Protests have been held in cities around the world in a show of sympathy for Tibet, where anti-government riots erupted last month. Parades of the passing of the Olympic torch have faced massive demonstrations, most recently in San Francisco.
The Dalai Lama said the demonstrators had the right to their opinions, though he called for nonviolence.
"The expression of their feelings is up to them," he said. "Nobody has the right to tell them to shut up. One of the problems in Tibet is that there is no freedom of speech."
Chinese authorities have tightly restricted access to Tibet and Tibetan areas of western China, where protests also broke out. The sometimes violent anti-government demonstrations were the largest among Tibetans in almost two decades.
"Autonomy (in Tibet) is just in name, it is not sincerely implemented. The crisis is the expression of their (Tibetans') deep regret," he said.
Japan's government has been relatively quiet about the violence in Tibet and, out of deference to Beijing, does not deal officially with the Dalai Lama.
Tokyo does, however, grant visas to the spiritual leader, who has visited Japan fairly frequently. Buddhism is one of Japan's main religions, along with the indigenous Shinto faith.
No meetings were planned between the Dalai Lama and government officials although Japanese media said the wife of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would meet with him. Neither Abe's office nor the Dalai Lama's liaison office in Tokyo could confirm the reports.
More than a dozen Buddhist monks protested Wednesday in front of visiting journalists at a monastery in western China to call for the return of the exiled Tibetan leader.
The monks, whose numbers grew to about two dozen during the 10-minute incident, shouted slogans in Tibetan in an outer courtyard as journalists entered a prayer hall at the Labrang monastery in western Gansu province bordering Tibet.
The incident followed a similar interruption during a closely scripted government media tour of Tibet's capital of Lhasa two weeks ago to view damage from anti-government riots that erupted there last month.
Other protests have been held in Paris, London and San Francisco along the route of the Olympic torch relay, prompting concerns that it could be shortened or possibly canceled in some areas to avoid violence.
The Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India since 1959.