China has released a documentary accusing the Dalai Lama of orchestrating a wave of self-immolations by Tibetans, in its most elaborate attempt so far to shape international opinion about the protests against Chinese rule.
The documentary shown globally by state broadcaster China Central Television features police surveillance footage of the fiery protests. Mostly lone Tibetans are seen ablaze on small town roads before being blasted by security forces with fire extinguishers or covered with blankets.
Tibetans interviewed describe contacting monks living in exile and sending them photographs of would-be protesters -- evidence, the documentary says, of collusion. A narrator quotes comments supposedly made by the Dalai Lama in support of the self-immolations together with footage of Tibetans being treated in hospitals for severe burns.
All told, the piece, titled "The Dalai clique and self-immolation violent incidents," marks the government's most extensive effort to cast blame on the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader for protests that have touched Tibetans emotionally and presented an image problem for Beijing.
At least 34 Buddhist monks, nuns and Tibetan lay people have set themselves on fire in the past 14 months in what Tibetans see as an act of sacrifice to highlight China's repressive policies on religion and culture.
A spokesman for the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharmsala, India, said he had not seen the documentary but denied that the Dalai Lama or exiled Tibetans have been instigating the protests. Instead, he said, Beijing's policies are causing the protests.
"When the government stops this oppression inside Tibet, the self-immolations will stop. That's what we hope and believe will happen. But it's in their hands," said the spokesman, Tashi, who like many Tibetans uses one name.
China is touchy about perceived challenges to its rule over Tibet since communist forces entered the region six decades ago. While Beijing has poured investment into the region to raise standards of living and win over Tibetans, it has often appeared to be losing a global public relations battle against the Dalai Lama.
On Tuesday, China criticized British Prime Minister David Cameron for meeting with the Dalai Lama, saying it "hurts the feelings of the Chinese people" and amounts to support for Tibet's independence from Chinese rule.