The Dalai Lama said today more and more Chinese were beginning to see a problem with Beijing's rule over Tibet, lamenting how the homeland he fled 50 years ago had become a "hell on earth".
Speaking before some 10,000 Tibetans from around the world, the 73-year-old slammed China for bringing "untold suffering and destruction" during a series of repressive and violent campaigns in Tibet since 1959.
"These thrust Tibetans into such depths of suffering and hardship that they literally experienced hell on earth," he said from the main Buddhist temple in Dharamsala, the north Indian hill town where the Tibetan government-in-exile is based.
"The immediate result of these campaigns was the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans."
China tightened security across ethnic Tibetan areas, aiming to head off potential unrest on the sensitive 50th anniversary of a failed uprising that prompted the Dalai Lama's flight into exile in India.
Monks, who have initiated many Tibetan protests in recent years, told Reuters they were under close surveillance and riot police blocked roads and turned away foreign journalists from parts of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces.
Later today, the Dalai Lama told a news conference the voice of support for Tibet within China was rising steadily.
"More and more Chinese (are) now starting to acknowledge there is problem there," he said. "In fact, quite a number of Chinese high officials, (their) family members (are) showing interest in Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism."
About 20 young men and women, dressed mostly in black Tibetan dress to mourn victims of the crackdown, came in before today's speech playing drums and bagpipes and singing "Rise up, rise up".
The Tibetan anthem was also played and a minute's silence was observed in the memory of victims of last year's Chinese crackdown in Tibet.
The Dalai Lama mourned what he called the suffering and destruction wrought by Chinese Communist policies and campaigns.
Many were seen crying with folded hands as he said: "Even today, Tibetans in Tibet live in constant fear.
"Today, the religion, culture, language and identity, which successive generations of Tibetans have considered more precious than their lives, are nearing extinction. In short, the Tibetan people are regarded like criminals deserving to be put to death."
Shortly after the speech, thousands of Tibetans, many among them children, marched through the narrow streets of Dharamsala carrying "Free Tibet" posters and protesting against a Chinese security clampdown in Tibet.
"Whatever the Dalai Lama said is right, we totally believe in him and will follow him," Rinzin Choedon, a 12-year-old school student, said.
In the high plateau of Qinghai province which borders Tibet, meanwhile, riot police with signs banning firearms blocked roads and turned back reporters trying to enter the monastery town of Tongren, known as Rebkong in Tibetan.
"Can't you see? It's so tense. What can I say about March 10? Look at all these soldiers and police here," said Manang, a farmer.
Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily carried an editorial today extolling Tibet's development in the last 50 years and slamming what it called the misery of the old feudal society, in which people fought dogs for food and illiteracy was widespread.
"Nobody hopes to go backwards in history, and only a few slave owners dwell on the life that once was. Tibet's happiness today is the happiness of the people, not that of the slave owners," it said.
The Dalai Lama also used the anniversary as a chance to renew a demand for "meaningful autonomy" for the region. But Beijing says his calls for Tibetan high-level autonomy are tantamount to a demand for independence.
Many exiled Tibetans would like to go further than the conciliatory approach of their spiritual leader. A meeting of exiles last November reaffirmed his "middle way" path, but many said their patience with Beijing may not last.