Chinese officials say trained Tibetan separatists who attacked police are responsible for instigating deadly violence last week in the southwest province of Sichuan.
The state-owned China Daily newspaper quoted Sichuan government officials Wednesday as saying two rioters were killed and 24 police officers and firefighters were wounded in two confrontations. It is the first detailed report by local officials since violence broke out last week.
The official claims contradict those made by witnesses and exile groups, who say up to seven protesters died when police opened fire on unarmed crowds in three incidents.
Chinese police have secured the area, restricting journalists and others from independently verifying the reports. Western news organizations report an increased police presence as far as 300 kilometers away from the site of the protests.
The China Daily report said the protests began on January 23 when a group of armed protesters shouting slogans for Tibetan independence stormed a police station in Luhuo. It said another mob attacked police the following day in nearby Seda county.
The article said police were forced to defend themselves when protesters began throwing molotov cocktails and stones. It also said they burnt cars and damaged local stores, causing $600,000 in damages.
The Sichuan government said it believes both protests were "well planned beforehand" by "trained separatists." It defended its use of force against protesters, saying "no government would tolerate such violence directed against police."
Regional tensions intensified almost a year ago, when a young Buddhist monk demanding the return of the exiled Dalai Lama set himself on fire and died at a monastery in Sichuan. Since then, at least 15 other monks, former monks and nuns have died in similar protests against Chinese rule.
China seized control of Tibet more than 50 years ago, forcing the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan leaders to flee to northern India. Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of wanting to separate Tibet from the rest of China, a charge that he denies.
Many Tibetans accuse the Chinese government of attempting to erode their culture and faith, and resent the large-scale migration of China's ethnic Han majority into Tibetan areas.