Image: Heavily armed paramilitary police patrol a street of Kangding
Ng Han Guan  /  AP
Heavily armed paramilitary police patrol a street of Kangding, Ganzi prefecture in southwestern China's Sichuan province on Tuesday, March 10, 2009.
updated 3/10/2009 3:17:45 PM ET 2009-03-10T19:17:45

Life for Tibetans under Chinese rule has been "hell on Earth," the Dalai Lama said Tuesday, attacking Beijing in a speech to mark 50 years since the failed uprising that forced him into exile.

The unusually harsh rhetoric from the Nobel Peace laureate, who accused the Chinese government of treating his people "like criminals deserving to be put to death," highlighted the widening gulf between the two sides since last year when violence engulfed the region and talks broke down.

"These 50 years have brought untold suffering to the land and people of Tibet," the 73-year-old Buddhist spiritual leader told some 2,000 Tibetan exiles gathered to commemorate the 1959 rebellion.

Beijing, which accuses the Dalai Lama of trying to split Tibet from China and fomenting the recent violence, denounced his speech as "lies" and underlined the development it had brought to the vast Himalayan plateau.

The Dalai Lama's 30-minute speech in Dharmsala, the two-street town perched in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas where he set up his headquarters in exile, was a systematic indictment of Chinese rule in Tibet.

Decades of China's communist experiments, particularly the violent xenophobic Cultural Revolution, "thrust Tibetans into such depths of suffering and hardship that they literally experienced hell on Earth," he said, adding that these campaigns led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans.

Tibet's unique religion, culture and language are "nearing extinction," he said.

Video: Protests in Nepal It was only the exile of 100,000 Tibetans to India that had allowed them to preserve some remnants of their heritage, he later told reporters.

"Now 50 years past, at least in this planet there is one place where Tibetan Buddhist studies and Tibetan Buddhist culture continues with full freedom," he said.

'Brutal crackdown'
Tuesday's ceremony was a mix of somber prayers and hymns mourning those who died, and the pomp of Tibetan tradition.

Monks in ornate yellow headdress blew giant conches and long brass trumpets to herald the arrival of the Dalai Lama, while a band played drums, cymbals and bagpipes as he made his way from his residence to the main temple.

The Dalai Lama also charged Beijing with overseeing a "brutal crackdown" in Tibet since protests shook the Himalayan region.

Last year, a peaceful commemoration of the 1959 uprising by monks in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa erupted into anti-Chinese rioting four days later and spread to surrounding provinces — the most sustained and violent demonstrations by Tibetans in decades.

"Even today, Tibetans in Tibet live in constant fear, and the Chinese authorities remain constantly suspicious of them," he said.

Slideshow: Dalai Lama

On Tuesday, Lhasa was calm but tense, as was the rest of the region. Residents and businesses reported seeing increased patrols of armed police throughout the city. Tibetans and travelers in western China said police stepped up identity checks.

After the Dalai Lama's speech, thousands of young Tibetans took to the streets of Dharmsala, chanting, "China out!" and "Tibet belongs to Tibetans!" 

Global protests
Another 1,000 protesters marched peacefully in New Delhi, while other protests were held in Nepal; Seoul, South Korea; New York; London; Berlin; Vienna; Bern, Switzerland; Taiwan; and Canberra, the capital of Australia.

Video: Chinese TV airs own version of Tibet uprising

While Beijing claims Tibet has been part of Chinese territory for centuries, Tibet was a deeply isolated theocracy until 1951, when Chinese troops invaded Lhasa, the regional capital. Tuesday's anniversary marked March 10, 1959, riots inside Tibet against Chinese rule which lead to a crackdown and, later that month, the Dalai Lama's dramatic flight across the Himalayas and into exile.

Beijing has long claimed that it brought modernity to a region where monks and wealthy landowners had long ruled over huge tracts of land worked by slaves and serfs.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said Tibet went through democratic reforms in 1959, and that Tibetans had been freed from slavery.

'Prepare for the worst'
The Dalai Lama also lamented the failure of talks with Beijing and held little hope for any progress while China's authoritarian regime remained in place.

"We have to prepare for the worst. At the same time, we should not give up our hope," he said.

While his comments were strong for a man known for his deeply pacifist beliefs, he also urged that any change come peacefully and reiterated his support for the "Middle Way," which calls for significant Tibetan autonomy under Chinese rule, not independence.

"I have no doubt that the justice of Tibetan cause will prevail if we continue to tread a path of truth and nonviolence," he said.

More on Tibet

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Video: Dalai Lama condemns China

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