Tibetan monks listen to a speaker during exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama's 78th birthday celebrations at Bylakuppe, about 213km south of the southern Indian city of Bangalore.

Beijing -

At least eight Tibetans were injured, including two with serious head wounds, after paramilitary police fired on a crowd celebrating the exiled Dalai Lama's birthday in defiance of Chinese authorities, reports said on Tuesday.

Hundreds of Tibetans, including many Buddhist monks and nuns, gathered on Saturday in Tawu county, in the south-western province of Sichuan, to mark the Dalai Lama's 78th birthday, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet said.

Clashes began after the police tried to prevent the Tibetans from making offerings on a hillside where they had placed a photograph of the Dalai Lama, the group said.

At least 20 Tibetans were arrested following the clash, it quoted local sources as saying.

US-based Radio Free Asia said the police fired bullets and tear gas to disperse about 1 000 Tibetans in Tawu.

Police officers beat some Tibetans and smashed the windows of vehicles carrying them to the celebration at the Machen Pomra sacred mountain, the broadcaster quoted unnamed sources as saying.

“They smashed doors and windows of our vehicles and started beating Tibetans gathered in the area and dispersed the Tibetans and started shooting at the crowd,” it quoted one local Tibetan as saying.

Online reports of the clash included photographs of injured Tibetans and of police stopping a car on the mountain.

Tibetans in nearby areas also marked the Dalai Lama's birthday despite the presence of paramilitary police, the International Campaign for Tibet said.

“This incident in Tawu represents a major test to the international community's commitment to stand up for the rights of the Tibetan people to peacefully promote their national and religious identity,” said Tenzin Jigme, international coordinator of the International Tibet Network.

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, fled to India after China cracked down on a Tibetan uprising in March 1959. - Sapa-dpa