The Dalai Lama has accused China of creating "hell on Earth" in Tibet on the 50th anniversary of the uprising that led to his exile.

Speaking to around 2,000 of his supporters in Dharamsala, his home in India, he said China had brought "untold suffering and destruction to the land and people of Tibet".

He accused it of carrying out a series of repressive and violent campaigns which "thrust Tibetans into such depths of suffering and hardship that they literally experienced hell on earth."

He said that Chinese rule in the region was bringing the Tibetan way of life to an end. "Today, the religion, culture, language and identity are nearing extinction; in short, the Tibetan people are regarded like criminals deserving to be put to death."

The Tibetan leader recalled the events that led to his exile, beginning with the arrival of Communist troops into the north-eastern states of Kham and Amdo in 1949 and culminating in an escalating wave of "immense chaos and destruction".

He blamed Chinese occupation for directly causing the deaths of "hundreds of thousands" of Tibetans since 1959. At least 200,000 Tibetans are also thought to be in exile around the world.

The Dalai Lama tempered his unusually strong comments with a commitment to further negotiations with the Chinese, and called for support for his "Middle Way", which calls for Tibetan autonomy under Chinese rule.

"I have no doubt that the justice of the Tibetan cause will prevail if we continue to tread a path of truth and non-violence," he said.

Many Tibetans have recently expressed dismay at their leader for being too soft on China and have called for a harder line, and the speech may have been a response.

Thousands of young Tibetans marched through Dharamsala after he spoke, and a further thousand marched peacefully through New Delhi. More protests were held across the world, especially in Seoul and Canberra, the Australian capital, where four protesters were arrested in scuffles outside the Chinese embassy.

In Lhasa, the atmosphere was "calm", according to eyewitnesses, who said there had not been any unrest. Last year, a peaceful demonstration escalated into widespread riots in which at least 200 Tibetans were killed, according to human rights activists.

This year, China has taken no chances, sealing the region's borders, banning all foreigners and pouring troops onto the streets to maintain the peace. "Today is just like any other day," said one Tibetan in Lhasa.

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign ministry said he would "not respond to the Dalai Lama's lies". He added: "The Dalai Lama clique is spreading rumours. The democratic reforms are the widest and most profound in Tibetan history. In the past 50 years, Tibet has witnessed profound changes and the millions of serfs have become the new owners of Tibet."