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BEIJING (Reuters) - China's mountainous region of Tibet is facing an urgent task to maintain stability, and all government workers must be on their highest guard ahead of the Tibetan new year and the fifth anniversary of riots there, a top newspaper said Monday.

China has stepped up security in what it calls the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan parts of the country following a series of self-immolations and sporadic protests against Chinese rule, mostly in Sichuan and Gansu provinces.

The official Tibet Daily newspaper, while mentioning neither the recent unrest nor the burnings, said the region faced a pressing challenge to maintain stability, especially in March, which marks five years since deadly riots erupted across the Tibetan region.

Tibetan new year falls on February 22.

China has ruled Tibet since Communist troops marched in in 1950. It rejects criticism that it is eroding Tibetan culture and faith, saying its rule has ended serfdom and brought development to a backward region.

The Tibet Daily, citing a ruling Communist Party notice, said government departments at every level "must put all their efforts into maintaining a stable, unified social situation in our region."

Officials must "have a clear head, and fully recognize the extreme importance and urgency of the job of maintaining stability," the newspaper said.

Government departments must "unstintingly carry out all measures designed to maintain stability," it added, without elaborating.

In March 2008, riots and protests erupted in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, and spread to other regions in China's western border regions including Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu provinces.

Tibetan advocacy groups say as many as seven Tibetans were shot dead and dozens wounded during protests last month in a heavily Tibetan part of Sichuan province. Police and security forces quelled the protests.

The Chinese government has repeatedly blamed exiled Tibetans for stoking the protests, including spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising.

The state-run China Daily said Monday that youth unemployment was probably also to blame for the latest violence in Sichuan's Seda county -- one of the three sites of the shootings.

"The majority of the crowds are young people who do not have jobs," Seda county director Palden, who like many ethnic Tibetans uses only one name, told the newspaper.

"So the priority is to improve life quality in Seda county and provide enough job opportunities for young people," he said.

Rights groups say repressive Chinese policies, including restrictions on Tibetan culture and religion, have been the real cause of the unrest.

Saturday, U.S. Senator John McCain warned China's Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun that "the Arab Spring is coming to China" and highlighted the number of Tibetans burning themselves to death.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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