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The Dalai Lama gestures during a news briefing in Dharamsala, India, on Sunday. ((Gurinder Osan/Associated Press))

The Dalai Lama called on Sunday for an international investigation into the crackdown against protesters in Tibet, saying the region is facing "cultural genocide."

Speaking from Dharamsala, India, the Tibetan spiritual leader told reporters "some respected international organization can find out what the situation is in Tibet and what is the cause."

"Whether intentionally or unintentionally, some cultural genocide is taking place," said the Dalai Lama, who is living in exile in India along with about 125,000 other Tibetan refugees.

"There is some kind of discrimination and Tibetans in their own land quite often are treated as second-class citizens," he added.

There are reports that as many as 80 protesters have been killed. The figures could not be independently verified as China heavily restricts foreign media access to Tibet.

The crackdown came after five days of peaceful protests in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, escalated into violence on Friday, with Buddhist monks launching the fiercest challenge to Beijing's rule over the region in nearly two decades.

Concern over the loss of Tibetan culture has played a role in the tensions. Chinese immigrants have been flocking to Lhasa in recent years, and at the height of Friday's unrest, demonstrators set fire to Chinese-owned shops and hurled rocks at local police.

Hundreds of armed police and soldiers were patrolling the streets of Lhasa on Sunday. Hong Kong Cable TV reported some 200 military vehicles on Sunday drove into the city centre, which was mostly empty.

There were also reports of further Tibetan independence protests leading to arrests and casualties in China's southwestern Sichuan province. A police officer said about 200 protesters burned down a police station.

The Chinese government has attempted to control what the public can see and hear about protests that erupted Friday. Access to YouTube, usually available in China, was blocked after videos appeared on the website Saturday showing foreign news reports about the Lhasa demonstrations, montages of photos and scenes from Tibet-related protests abroad.

Television reports by CNN and the BBC were periodically cut during the day, and the screens went black during a live speech by the Dalai Lama carried on the networks.

Canada's Foreign Affairs Department has advised Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel to Tibet. Those now in the region should "seek safe havens in hotels and other buildings and remain indoors," it said.

With files from the Associated Press