The flagship newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party called yesterday for efforts to "resolutely crush" anti-government protests by Tibetans, while US presidential hopeful John McCain criticized Beijing's actions as "not acceptable."
McCain's comments added to a rising international chorus of concern over Beijing's crackdown -- criticisms that Beijing has met with its own campaign to portray the protests as having been instigated by supporters of the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama.
Meanwhile, Beijing's official death toll from the rioting in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa rose to 22, with Xinhua news agency reporting that five more civilians and a police officer died. The Dalai Lama's government-in-exile has said 99 Tibetans have been killed -- 80 in Lhasa and 19 in Gansu Province.
The protests, which started in Lhasa on the March 10 anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule, turned violent four days later and touched off demonstrations among Tibetans in three other provinces. It has become the largest challenge to China's control of Tibet since the 1959 uprising.
Beijing has responded by smothering Tibetan areas with troops and publishing a "most wanted" list of 21 protesters, appealing to people to turn them in.
"We must see through the secessionist forces' evil intentions, uphold the banner of maintaining social stability ... and resolutely crush the `Tibet independence' forces' conspiracy," the People's Daily said in an editorial.
During a visit to Paris on Friday, McCain said China's crackdown "is not correct" and, after a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, expressed hope Beijing would seek a peaceful resolution.
"The people there are being subjected to mistreatment that is not acceptable with the conduct of a world power, which China is," McCain said in response to a question by a Chinese reporter.
"There must be respect for human rights, and I would hope that the Chinese are actively seeking a peaceful resolution to this situation that exists which harms not only the human rights of the people there but also the image of China in the world," he said.
The crackdown has drawn attention to China's human rights record, threatening to overshadow Beijing's attempts to project an image of unity and prosperity ahead of the Aug. 8 to Aug. 24 Olympics.
On Friday, US Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi lent her support to the Tibetan cause on a visit to the Dalai Lama at his headquarters in India, calling China's crackdown "a challenge to the conscience of the world."
Pelosi, long a fierce critic of China, called for an investigation and dismissed Beijing's claim that the Dalai Lama was behind the fighting as making "no sense."
The Dalai Lama, who received the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, says he does not seek independence but wants genuine autonomy to protect Tibet's unique Buddhist culture.
Fighting back against the rising criticism, Beijing has begun releasing tallies of statements of support from foreign governments and trying to get its version of events before the international community.
"It is a clear proof that the international community is on the side of China", foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang (