: Chinese officials on Wednesday blamed the exiled religious leader the Dalai Lama for orchestrating the more than 25 self-immolations by Tibetans in recent months, and hit out at the monks and nuns involved in the protests by describing them as “criminals”.

Wu Zegang, the Communist Party chief of the Aba Tibetan prefecture in southwestern Sichuan, where many of the self-immolation protests have been reported, accused the Dalai Lama of “supporting and inspiring” the self-immolations.

“To encourage self-immolations, they even offer a price of compensation for the dead. All these prove that self-immolations are pre-mediated political moves,” Mr. Wu was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency, during a meeting of local officials on the sidelines of the annual session of the Chinese parliament.

“By touting self-immolaters as heroes and performing religious rituals to expiate the sins of the dead, they support and inspire self-immolations,” he said. “They instigate people to emulate this behaviour and are not hesitant to use terrorism to reach their objectives.”

The exiled religious leader has however stressed that he did not encourage the protests, although he expressed sympathy with the monks and nuns who had said they were protesting restrictive religious policies.

Despite the denunciations by government officials, the string of self-immolation protests, stretching back to over a year, have continued across many Tibetan areas in China, with at least three such incidents reported in the past week alone.

A young Tibetan girl and a widowed mother of four were reported to have set themselves on fire in Tibetan areas of Gansu and Sichuan provinces, according to overseas groups. The official Xinhua news agency reported another self-immolation in Gansu over the weekend. It said in a report that a 20 year-old-student had been driven to attempt to kill herself because of pressure at school, adding that she had been hospitalised after suffering a head injury before setting herself on fire.

Mr. Wu claimed that police investigations had shown that some of the monks behind the self-immolations had “criminal records” and were “clerics returning to lay life”. While he acknowledged that self-immolations in Tibetan areas “appear contagious”, he blamed the spread of protests on the “alluring and deceptive double-faced tactics of the Dalai Lama”, and not, as many monks have said, on prevailing resentment towards religious restrictions.

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