BEIJING (AP) - China's government says it has detained 70 people in ethnic Tibetan areas in a crackdown on self-immolations aimed at protesting Communist rule.
The detentions came as Beijing stepped up efforts to blame the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, for protests in which nearly 100 Tibetan monks, nuns and lay people have set themselves on fire since 2009.
The harsh measures are a sign new Chinese leaders installed in November are not easing up on Tibet despite the protests and international condemnation.
The protesters are calling for Beijing to allow greater religious freedom and the return from exile of the Dalai Lama, who lives in India.
The latest detentions occurred in an ethnic Tibetan area of Qinghai province, which abuts Tibet, the government's Xinhua News Agency reported late on Thursday. It said 12 of those detained were formally arrested but gave no details of the charges.
Beijing has responded to the protests by sending in security forces to seal off areas and prevent information from getting out, arresting protesters' friends and seizing satellite TV dishes. Despite that, the pace of self-immolations accelerated in November as the ruling Communist Party held a pivotal leadership transition.
The government has blamed the burnings on hostile foreign forces that want to separate Tibet from the mainland.
A police official cited in Thursday's announcement claimed the Dalai Lama "masterminded and incited the self-immolations" but gave no information to support the accusation.
The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 as communist troops that occupied the Himalayan region in 1951 were crushing an anti-Chinese uprising.
The self-immolations have galvanised many Tibetans, who see them as selfless acts of sacrifice, making it hard for authorities to denounce the immolators.