DHARMSALA, INDIA, OCT. 7 -- The exiled spiritual leader of 6 million Tibetans charged today in a rare news conference that recent demonstrations in Lhasa were caused by "discontent and suffering" and that the Tibetan people have the right to protest against Chinese rule.

"We cannot sacrifice our interest," said Tensin Gyatsho, the 14th Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 as Chinese troops repressed a rebellion. "Demonstrations are symbols of sparks. Basically, things are difficult there."

At least six Tibetans have been killed and Chinese authorities have rushed extra troops to Tibet following anti-Chinese demonstrations that turned violent last Thursday.

Speaking at his headquarters in this remote mountain town, the Dalai Lama said he favors a peaceful and negotiated settlement of Tibet's differences with China, but also indicated that the time has come for greater pressure on Beijing. As he spoke, hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist monks demonstrated in Dharmsala, shouting freedom slogans and anti-Chinese chants. A separate group of Tibetan youths held a hunger strike.

While denying Chinese charges that he had a role in the recent demonstrations, the Dalai Lama acknowledged in a later interview with the Voice of America that his well-publicized trip to the United States last month could have contributed to the upsurge of sentiment in the Tibetan capital, and strongly hinted that he endorsed the development.

"The Chinese government is concerned with popular opinion, especially in the West, because it is concerned about projecting a good image," he said.

The demonstrations, he said in the news conference, will keep pressure on Beijing to negotiate.

The basis for negotiation, he said, is the plan that he outlined on his U.S. trip. It calls for creation of a "zone of peace" in Tibet, a halt to the shifting of ethnic Chinese to Tibet, respect for human rights and dignity, respect for Tibet's fragile ecology and generally better relations between China and Tibet.

In his Voice of America interview, the Dalai Lama urged better relations between the United States and China as a vehicle toward bettering the lot of Tibetans.

"In China, there is economic development and with it, more general knowledge about the value of human rights. Unfortunately in the past people did not know about these basic values. More contact with the outside, especially with America, will help not only in Tibet but in China proper. Eventually it may become a more humanized society," the Dalai Lama said.

In his news conference, he carefully avoided saying whether he wants independence from China or would settle for autonomous status.

"Politically, maybe special relations with China would be good," he said. "If there were more benefits with them, we will stay. If not, then we will stay separate, as is historical fact.

"It is the 6 million people in Tibet who matter and not 100,000 refugees outside. If they want us to return, then the refugees, including me, will return."

At one point, the Dalai Lama seemed to be expressing rare criticism of India.

"Our relations are of guru and disciple, and when the disciple is in trouble it is the moral responsibility of the guru to come to the rescue," he said.

India is recognized as the spiritual fount of Buddhism because the Buddha was Indian and the religion spread from the subcontinent.

By providing a haven for the Dalai Lama, India maintains a point of leverage on China, with which it has fought a disastrous border war and still has disputed borders. Indian officials nevertheless keep a close watch on Tibetan political activities.