China on Thursday denied its forces had used guns to quell Tibetan protests outside Tibet, despite a report that at least 18 protesters were shot dead by paramilitary police in a town in the south-western province of Sichuan.
"They showed maximum restraint," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said when asked about the reaction of police to widespread protests in Sichuan, the neighbouring province of Gansu, and other Tibetan areas.
"They did not use or take any lethal weapons," Qin told reporters.
A Tibetan source in Sichuan's Aba town told DPA that 13 Tibetans, including an eight-year-old, were shot dead during clashes last Friday and five more were killed on Saturday.
Seven trucks carrying paramilitary reinforcements entered Aba on Tuesday, said the source, who requested anonymity.
The soldiers aggressively interrogated people who ventured out at night and any Tibetans walking on the street in groups of more than two people, he said.
Qin said "some illegal incidents have been dealt with" in a "small number of other places" since rioting erupted last Friday in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
But he said he was "not aware of this specific incident" when asked about the clashes in Aba town.
Local media reports said hundreds of rioters attacked government offices, police stations, hospitals and schools in Aba Sunday, looting and setting fire to shops and vehicles.
"Many police officers and government officials were injured during the unrest," it said without elaborating.
"The protesters shouted slogans such as 'Tibet independence', carried rocks and homemade petrol bombs, and waved the flag of the Tibetan government in exile," the agency said.
Similar violence erupted in at least four areas of Gansu, including Gannan prefecture, where eight policemen and three government employees were injured, it said.
But the reports gave no details of any casualties among the protesters, continuing an apparent government policy, led by state television, of highlighting only the violence against the country's Han Chinese majority and other non-Tibetans.
The government earlier denied opening fire on protesters in Lhasa and claimed its forces used "extreme restraint" there.
An official in the Aba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, a large district that administers Aba County, Wednesday said he was unaware of any deaths during the protests.
The official told DPA his government was "waiting for guidance" from the central government on reporting the casualty toll in Aba prefecture, where a Tibetan exile group said troops shot dead 39 people.
The central government has only confirmed 13 deaths, apparently all non-Tibetans, during rioting last Friday in Lhasa.
The India-based Tibetan government in exile said it had confirmed the death of at least 80 people in Lhasa.
Protests by Tibetans in China and other countries began March 10, the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising in Tibet against Chinese rule.
Qin on Thursday said the recent protests in China were "not an uprising. The facts show that these are criminal acts".