(dpa) - Hundreds of Tibetans protested at the weekend in two north-western Chinese provinces despite deployments of security forces, exile groups said Monday, as the government announced charges against five protesters arrested on suspicion of causing fatal fires.
Saturday's and Sunday's demonstrations occurred in areas of Gansu and Qinghai provinces with ethnic-Tibetan populations, the groups said, adding that witnesses said a number of demonstrators were injured in clashes with security forces during a protest by about 1,000 people in the Gansu city of Xiapagou.
Young Tibetans and Tibetan monks fled the protest to avoid arrest, the reports said.
Protests were also reported in Malho prefecture and Manra county in Qinghai.
Tibetan groups said Chinese security forces have increased their presence in Tibetan-populated areas, surrounded monasteries and in some places cut off food and water supplies.
The Ministry of Public Security held a press conference Monday but refused to answer questions about the recent protests and rioting.
Ministry spokeswoman Shan Huimin said five suspects were charged with arson leading to the death of 10 people in two separate incidents on March 14 and March 15 in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Three of those charged were young Tibetan women who set fire to a clothes shop where five employees died on March 14, Shan said.
Shan showed footage of rioting in Lhasa that was aired earlier by state television and read a statement on the violence in Lhasa, saying 242 police and paramilitary officers were injured.
She left the room immediately after reading her statement to about 100 foreign and Chinese journalists, who were filmed by officials at the event.
Protests by Tibetans in China and other countries began March 10, the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising in Tibet against Chinese rule.
China said 19 people died in the violence, but the India-based Tibetan government in exile said it confirmed the deaths of at least 130 people, many of them Tibetans shot by Chinese police.
Shan reiterated China's insistence that its forces did not open fire on protesters in Lhasa although last week the government admitted to firing on protesters in self-defence in the town of Aba in the south-western province of Sichuan but reported no deaths there.
"Our public security officers didn't use any lethal weapons," she said. "They showed great restraint."