BEIJING — Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama assailed China on Monday for "unimaginable and gross violations" of human rights in his homeland, as security forces broke up a rare protest by scores of maroon-clad monks near the heart of Tibet's capital.
The angry remarks by the Dalai Lama in a speech in Dharamsala, India, marked the latest flash point between China and a chief nemesis in the run-up to this summer's Olympic Games.
"Repression continues to increase, with numerous, unimaginable and gross violations of human rights, denial of religious freedom and politicization of religious issues," he said. "For nearly six decades, Tibetans have had to live in a state of constant fear under Chinese repression."
The 72-year-old Nobel Peace laureate said Tibetans had witnessed "increased repression and brutality" recently due to China's "lack of respect for the Tibetan people."
The unusually sharp remarks coincided with a rare open protest march by monks in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, and came after several days of scathing attacks by Chinese officials, who charge that the Dalai Lama seeks to disrupt the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Summer Games. The verbal fireworks underscore how difficult it may be for China to contain its internal politics on sensitive issues such as Tibet as it hosts the most costly and lavish Olympic Games ever staged.
Security agents detained dozens of people in Lhasa as some 300 monks marched from Drepung Monastery toward the Potala Palace in the center of Lhasa Monday. They were demanding the release of fellow monks arrested last October after the Dalai Lama received a Congressional Gold Medal in Washington, Radio Free Asia reported.
The U.S. government broadcaster cited a witness who said that police detained between 50 and 60 monks, and that ambulances were at the site.
The protest march in Lhasa coincided with the 49th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's flight to exile to India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
Experts said such a major open protest in Lhasa, where a security presence is heavy, may not have occurred since a series of demonstrations in the late 1980s led to the imposition of martial law in Tibet in 1989.
On Sunday, the state Xinhua news agency quoted a Tibetan official as saying that Beijing already had snuffed out efforts by Dalai Lama supporters to stir up trouble in Tibet.
"We took timely, forceful and resolute measures in the past five years to crush a series of conspiracies by the Dalai clique," Ragdi, a Tibet-born vice chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, told Xinhua. Like some Tibetans, he uses only one name.
The Xinhua story didn't elaborate on what kind of conspiracies it discovered.
Last Friday, several senior officials who oversee military and civil affairs in Tibet, where the Chinese Communist Party rules with an often-heavy hand, declared that they'd act forcefully if supporters of the Dalai Lama roiled Tibet before the Olympics.
Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party's secretary for Tibet, its top official, said that the Dalai Lama was "trying to sabotage this important event and spread rumors."
Zhang made his remarks at a meeting with Tibet delegates attending the National People's Congress, the ceremonial legislature now convened in its annual session.
The party chairman for Tibet, Xiangba Pingcuo, was asked by a journalist to identify the main cause of instability in the Himalayan autonomous region and immediately responded, "the Dalai clique and its secessionist activities."
Kang Jinzhong, the political commissar of the People's Armed Police force in Tibet, said security agents would act quickly to deal with "factors that influence the stability of society, especially the destructive troublemaking activities of the Dalai clique."
The Dalai Lama says he's given up seeking independence for Tibet, demanding only greater religious and political autonomy for the region. China says he still secretly wants to pull Tibet from China's control.
Minor disturbances commonly erupt among ethnic Tibetans, who chafe at the tight political and religious control under which they're kept. But major unrest hasn't erupted in more than a decade in Tibet, home to 2.9 million ethnic Tibetan Buddhists.
China got another lesson this month on how the issue can suddenly spill out of the bottle.
During a concert tour stop in Shanghai, the Icelandic singer Bjork wrapped up her show with the song "Declare Independence," shouting at the end "Tibet! Tibet!"
Security agents didn't cork Bjork on the spot. But the Ministry of Culture later declared that she'd broken the law and that it would "further tighten controls on foreign artists performing in China in order to prevent similar cases from happening in the future."