China has lashed out at the United States for remarks by a U.S. official blaming China's restrictive policies in Tibet for a rise in self-immolation protests.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Friday called the remarks "disgusting" and said the Tibet issue has nothing to do with human rights, ethnicity or religion.
Hong repeated China's position that Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his supporters are inciting the immolations allegedly to press for lifting China's control over Tibet.
Earlier this week, U.S. Undersecretary of State Maria Otero expressed concern about the self-immolations and urged China to let Tibetans express their grievances freely. She said China has responded to the protests with measures that tighten strict controls on Tibetans on freedoms of religion, expression and assembly.
In other news, a Chinese Communist Party newspaper is reporting that China is enforcing a new law aimed at curbing self-immolation by prosecuting those who burn themselves in public places.
The Global Times says authorities also will arrest people who gather to watch the immolations without trying to stop them, or who parade a corpse through the streets.
According to the newspaper, the law stipulates that "to incite and help others commit self-immolation" is a criminal act "depriving people of their lives."
There has been a recent spike in immolations in Tibetan areas of China.
At least 92 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in western China since 2009, with 28 cases reported in November alone. The acceleration has coincided with several anti-China rallies and a corresponding security crackdown.
From his exile home in India, the Dalai Lama has denied any involvement in the immolations. He has said repeatedly he is not pushing for Tibetan independence, but for greater autonomy.
China views Tibet as a non-negotiable part of its territory.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.