China strongly objected Monday to a U.N. critique that it must better address grievances in Tibetan areas where there have been frequent self-immolations, saying the protests are instigated by exiles in an "ugly and evil" attempt to promote separatism.

Dozens of ethnic Tibetans have set themselves on fire in heavily Tibetan regions since March 2011 to protest what activists say is Beijing's heavy-handed rule there. U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay urged Chinese authorities on Friday to better address grievances expressed by Tibetan people and allow independent monitors to visit the region.

Beijing has sought to play down the notion that people in Tibetan areas have complaints about Chinese rule by portraying any protests as being instigated from abroad by the exiled Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and his supporters.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei rejected Pillay's comments and said the Dalai Lama is trying to glorify self-immolations in a campaign to undermine the Chinese government.

"The Dalai clique has made desperate efforts in dressing up those extreme acts which run counter to the national laws and religious principles. This will effectively push more people onto this road of no return," Hong told reporters in a regular briefing Monday.

"These ugly and evil acts intended to achieve the separatist goal of Tibetan independence at the expense of other people's lives go against universal humanity and morality and deserve strong condemnation," Hong said.

The Dalai Lama has said he opposes all violence and says the self-immolations are a symptom of the desperation and frustration felt by Tibetans living under the Chinese government's hardline policies in the region, including its tight restrictions on religious life. China's government says it has poured resources into the region to help it develop economically and improve the lives of its residents.

Pillay, the U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement that she was disturbed by "continuing allegations of violence against Tibetans seeking to exercise their fundamental human rights of freedom of expression, association and religion."

She said she was concerned by reports of "detentions and disappearances, of excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators, and curbs on the cultural rights of Tibetans."

Pillay also said she hoped that Tibetans would refrain from self-immolation as a protest method, saying they should be permitted to express their feelings without being afraid of being punished. She also urged the Chinese government to allow independent monitors to visit and to allow reporters access to the region.

The protests have intensified as China nears a once-a-decade power transfer that starts Thursday with a Communist Party meeting in Beijing. Many of the protesters have called for the return of the Dalai Lama.