BEIJING -- China on Tuesday accused overseas followers of the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama of inciting a recent string of self-immolations among Tibetans.
The United States said it was very concerned about the self-immolations and "the clear anger and frustration and concern that it represents with regard to Tibetan human rights inside China."
Five Tibetan men have set themselves on fire in the past two weeks in Aba, a traditionally Tibetan region of western China.
While few details are known, the self-immolations are seen as a protest against Communist restrictions on Tibetan Buddhism and Beijing's hostility toward the exiled Dalai Lama.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said members of the "Dalai clique" not only failed to condemn the incidents, but publicized them to inspire further such acts.
"They publicly played it up, spread rumors and incited more people to follow suit," Liu told reporters at a daily news briefing.
Liu said the self-immolations were part of a plan to violently overthrow Chinese rule in Tibet.
"That runs against human conscience and morality but also Buddhist doctrine," he said.
In expressing concern about the self-immolations, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Tuesday called on the Chinese government to respect the rights of Tibetans and protect Tibet's unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity.
Aba has been the scene of numerous protests in past years against the Chinese government. Most are led by monks who are fiercely loyal to the Dalai Lama, who fled the Himalayan region in 1959 amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule. He is reviled by Beijing.
The Dalai Lama has routinely condemned violence and advocates a peaceful campaign for greater autonomy for Tibetans in China while remaining under Beijing's rule.
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.