Image: An elderly Tibetan refugee holds a Tibetan flag ahead of a vigil in Dharmsala, India, to protest China police violence
Angus Mcdonald  /  AP
An elderly Tibetan refugee holds a Tibetan flag before participating in a candlelight vigil to protest against violence by Chinese police against demonstrators in Tibet, at Dharmsala, India, Tuesday.
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updated 1/28/2012 5:10:22 AM ET 2012-01-28T10:10:22

A young man posts his photo with a leaflet demanding freedom for Tibet and telling Chinese police, come and get me. Protesters rise up to defend him, and demonstrations break out in two other Tibetan areas of western China to support the same cause.

Each time, police respond with bullets.

The three clashes, all in the past week, killed several Tibetans and injured dozens. They mark an escalation of a protest movement that for months expressed itself mainly through scattered individual self-immolations.

It's the result of growing desperation among Tibetans and a harsh crackdown by security forces that scholars and pro-Tibet activists contend only breeds more rage and despair.

That leaves authorities with the stark choice of either cracking down even harder or meeting Tibetan demands for greater freedom and a return of their Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama — something Beijing has shown zero willingness to do.

"By not responding constructively when it was faced with peaceful one-person protests, the (Communist) party has created the conditions for violent, large-scale protests," Robbie Barnett, head of modern Tibetan studies at New York's Columbia University, said.

China to again close Tibet during sensitive period

This is the region's most violent period since 2008, when deadly rioting in Tibet's capital Lhasa spread to Tibetan areas in adjoining provinces.

Flooded with troops
China responded by flooding the area with troops and closing Tibetan regions entirely to foreigners for about a year. Special permission is still required for non-Chinese visitors to Tibet, and the Himalayan region remains closed off entirely for the weeks surrounding the March 14 anniversary of the riots that left 22 people dead.

Video smuggled out by activists shows paramilitary troops equipped with assault rifles and armored cars making pre-dawn arrests.

Video: Dalai Lama to US: ‘Keep your spirit’ (on this page)

Huge convoys of heavily armored troops are seen driving along mountain roads and monks accused of sedition being frog-marched to waiting trucks.

For the past year, self-immolations have become a striking form of protest in the region. At least 16 monks, nuns and former clergy set themselves on fire after chanting for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

Report: Body paraded afer China self-immolation

China, fiercely critical of the Dalai Lama, says Tibet has been under its rule for centuries, but many Tibetans say the region was functionally independent for most of that time.

In a change from the individual protests, several thousand Tibetans marched to government offices Monday in Ganzi prefecture in Sichuan province.

Police opened fire into the crowd, killing up to three people, witnesses and activist groups said.

On Tuesday, security forces opened fire on a crowd of protesters in another area of Ganzi, killing two Tibetans and wounding several more, according to the group Free Tibet.

Slideshow: The Dalai Lama (on this page)

On Thursday in southwestern Sichuan province's Aba prefecture, a youth named Tarpa posted a leaflet saying that self-immolations wouldn't stop until Tibet is free, the London-based International Campaign for Tibet said.

He wrote his name on the leaflet and included a photo of himself, saying that Chinese authorities could come and arrest him if they wished, group spokeswoman Kate Saunders said in an email.

Too sensitive to discuss
Security forces did so about two hours later. Area residents blocked their way, shouting slogans and warning of bigger protests if Tarpa wasn't released, Saunders said. Police then fired into the crowd, killing a a 20-year-old friend of Tarpa's, a student named Urgen, and wounding several others.

The incident, as with most reported clashes in Tibetan areas, could not be independently verified and exact numbers of casualties were unclear because of the heavy security presence and lack of access. The topic is so sensitive that even government-backed scholars claim ignorance of it and refuse to comment.

The government, however, acknowledged Tuesday's unrest, saying that a "mob" charged a police station and injured 14 officers, forcing police to open fire on them. The official Xinhua News Agency said police killed one rioter and injured another.

Q&A: The Dalai Lama, China and Tibet

"The Chinese government will, as always, fight all crimes and be resolute in maintaining social order," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in comments on the incident.

The harsh response points to a deep anxiety about the self-immolations, said Youdon Aukatsang, a New Delhi-based member of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile.

"They're worried that there is an underground movement in Tibet that is coming to the surface," she said.

Slideshow: The dance of two giants (on this page)

Tibetan desperation has been fed both by the harsh crackdown — security agents reportedly outnumber monks in some monasteries — along with a deep fear that the Dalai Lama, probably the most potent symbol of Tibet's separate identity, will never return.

The 76-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate handed his political powers to an elected assembly last year.

That was intended to ensure the Tibetan cause would live on after him, but was met with considerable anxiety among many Tibetans who saw it as a sign he was giving up his role as leader of their struggle.

Dibyesh Anand, a Tibet expert at London's University of Westminster, said resistance to Chinese rule is likely to grow more fierce.

"Protests will get more radicalized since the Tibetans in the region see no concession, no offer of compromise, no flexibility coming from the government," he said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Dalai Lama to US: ‘Keep your spirit’

  1. Closed captioning of: Dalai Lama to US: ‘Keep your spirit’

    >> tibet's spiritual lead e the dalai lama is in new york. i sat down with him shortly after his meeting with president obama and in our wide-ranging interview, he talked about his conversation with the president, and shared his thoughts about the spirit of american resilience. the dalai lama says he offered president obama comfort.

    >> it's my duty to call him, show my respect. the president has some sort of difficulties. so i want to show an old friend's face, really. a feeling of reunion, old friend.

    >> the president is in a fierce struggle with his political opponents over the future of the nation's finances. what is the best way, your best advice, how to find compromise with those you deeply disagree with?

    >> naturally, you have some different interests regarding your own different party. but when the nation is facing crisis, those different views of political parties is secondary. now, this economic problem is not an interest on this party or that party. it's a national sort of interest. so we must work together.

    >> and to all americans struggling --

    >> so these times of economic difficulties, no reason to discourage americans. you must keep your spirit, your determination, and hard work. that way, you can overcome these kinds of problems. it may take time, but courage. never discourage. in spite of difficulties, you must keep your self-confidence.

    >> his holiness, the dally llama llama. and later, in part two, his thoughts about china, hiand going back to tibet.

Photos: The Dalai Lama

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  1. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, as a young child. He was born into a prosperous farming family in Tibet in 1935. He was enthroned as the leader of Tibet in 1950 at the age of 15 and also assumed the role of Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual leader. After the collapse of the Tibetan resistance movement in 1959, he fled to India. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. The Dalai Lama and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi in 1961, where they discussed the plight of Tibetans who crossed the border into India during the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule. When the Tibetan resistance collapsed in 1959, the Dalai Lama fled into exile in India. China has ruled Tibet since then. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Pope John Paul II meets with the Dalai Lama at Vatican City in November 2003. He has met with many religious leaders over the years to promote religious dialogue. In 1989, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. The Dalai Lama poses with his wax image at Madame Tussaud's in 1993 in London. He brought a pair of his own glasses for the statue. (Gerry Penny / AFP-Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The Dalai Lama jokes with New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani before an audience of 3,000 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York in 1997. (Adam Nadel / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The Dalai Lama speaks to an audience 40,000-strong at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington in July 2000. (Khue Bui / AFP-Getty Images ) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. President George W. Bush welcomes the Dalai Lama to the White House in 2001. (The White House via AFP - Getty) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The Dalai Lama pats a koala held by Bindi Irwin at the Australia Zoo during a tour titled "Open Arms -- Embracing Kindness" in Beerwah in June 2007. (Greg White / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A monk stands in front of Potala Palace in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, in 2004. Before his exile, the palace was the winter home of the Dalai Lama. (Peter Parks / AFP-Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The Dalai Lama presents actor Richard Gere with a traditional Tibetan ceremonial scarf during the International Campaign for Tibet 2009 Light of Truth Award in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 7, 2009. (Susan Walsh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Framed by the Tibetan flag, the Dalai Lama speaks to members of the Tibetan community on Oct. 11, 2007, in New York City. (Mary Altaffer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The Dalai Lama speaks with spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar during the launch ceremony of Global Foundation for Civilizational Harmony in New Delhi on Jan. 22, 2008. The organization aims to build a global civilization of peace, harmony and mutual enrichment. (Vijay Mathur / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. The Dalai Lama addresses a press conference in New Delhi, on March 29, 2008. He discussed the Chinese government policy of "demographic aggression." (Manish Swarup / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Pro-Tibetan protesters hold candles as they stand next to a poster of the Dalai Lama during a rally in San Francisco on April 8, 2008. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. The exiled spiritual leader playfully touches fists with musician Dave Matthews after a panel discussion at Seattle's Key Arena on April 11, 2008. (Marcus Donner / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Devotees watch the Tibetan spiritual leader give religious teachings at the Tsuglakhang temple in Dharmsala, India, on Sept. 30, 2008. (Ashwini Bhatia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama gives a speech at the EU Parliament in Brussels on December 4, 2008. China warned that day that multi-billion-dollar trade ties with France could be affected by President Nicolas Sarkozy's planned meeting with the Dalai Lama. (Eric Vidal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Polish President Lech Walesa, right, and fellow laureates the Dalai Lama, left, and Adolfo Perez Esquivel, center, are seen in Gdansk, Poland, on Dec. 5, 2008. Walesa was marking the 25th anniversary of his Nobel Peace Prize win. (Czarek Sokolowski / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The Dalai Lama receives an honorary doctorate at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, on December 8, 2008. He expressed admiration for the nation's 1980s non-violent struggle against its now defunct communist regime. (Pawel Ulatowski / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. The Dalai Lama prays before inaugurating the installation of a hand-carved 2.5 meter-high stone statue of Lord Buddha in the compound of the Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in the northern Indian city of Sarnath on Jan. 9, 2009. (Abhishek Madhukar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. The Dalai Lama smiles as he is flanked by Rome's Mayor Gianni Alemanno, left, and his wife Isabella, right, after being made an honorary citizen of the Italian city on Feb. 9, 2009. (Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The Dalai Lama greets reporters as he arrives for a press conference at the main temple in Dharamsala, India, on March 10, 2009. In a speech marking the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising, the Dalai Lama said he would continue to pursue the "middle path" approach despite China's crackdown on Tibetans. (Harish Tyagi / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. The Dalai Lama speaks to reporters outside the White House in Washington on Feb. 18, 2010, following a meeting with President Barack Obama. Every U.S. president for the last two decades has met with the Dailai Lama, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. The Dalai Lama announced that he will pass the reins of political power to the elected prime minister of the self-proclaimed on Thursday, March 10, 2011. Tibetan government in exile hoping to prevent a political vacuum after his death and ensure an effective response to Chinese crackdowns and Beijing's increasingly effective use of diplomatic pressure. Dalai Lama made a point of saying he wasn't retiring, and his global status and reputation ensure that he will continue to play a major role in Tibetan affairs. (David Stephenson / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. The Dalai Lama holds a forty-nine days memorial service for victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami at the Gokokuji temple in Tokyo on Friday, April 29, 2011. The 75-year-old monk, on his way to the US, offered prayers and messages to a nation in deep sorrow after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11 that has plunged Japan into its worst post-War crisis. (Kim Kyung-hoon / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Young Dalai Lama
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    Above: Slideshow (25) The Dalai Lama
  2. Image: July 1942:  Chinese Nationalist military leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek with Madame Chiang and US Lieutenant General Joseph W Stilwell
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    Slideshow (21) The dance of two giants

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