Foreign tourists allowed into Tibet

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China will lift its ban on foreign tourists entering Tibet region on Wednesday.

24 June 2008

BEIJING - China on Tuesday said it would allow foreign tourists to enter its Tibet region again from Wednesday, lifting a ban imposed in March after violent anti-Chinese protests in the regional capital of Lhasa.

The semi-official China News agency quoted the head of Tibet's tourism bureau as saying the staging of two "successful" Olympic torch relays in Tibet, the second in Lhasa on Saturday, "shows the firm basis of Tibet's current social stability".

"The conditions are ripe to receive foreign tourists (and) travel in Tibet is safe," Zhanuo, the tourism official, said at a press conference in Lhasa.

The government suspended visits by foreign tour groups to the Tibet Autonomous Region in March and severely restricted travel by foreign journalists to other Tibetan areas where protests erupted.

About 160 mainland Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese tour groups had already travelled to Tibet since 23 April, "after the Lhasa incident subsided," the agency quoted Zhanuo as saying.

The protests began on 10 March, the 49th anniversary of a Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

The government said at least 18 civilians and one police officer died at the hands of rioters in Lhasa on 14 March, and that 382 civilians and 241 police officers were injured.

But it has not reported a single death of a protestor in Lhasa or any other Tibetan area, despite claims by Tibetan exile groups that they have identified at least 200 Tibetans who were shot dead by police and troops during the protests.

Several major monasteries in Lhasa and other Tibetan areas are reportedly still controlled by troops or paramilitary police.

The region has always been closed to foreign journalists while tourists need a special permit in addition to a Chinese visa, and must register with a travel agency.

But under temporary media rules introduced in 2007, the government said journalists could travel to Tibet under the same restrictions as foreign tourists.

It took journalists from 29 media organisations to cover the Olympic torch relay in Lhasa on Saturday, following an earlier relay in May to the summit of Mount Everest in Tibet.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders on Tuesday accused China of "breaking its promises to the International Olympic Committee by preventing foreign journalists from freely covering" torch relays in Tibet and the neighbouring Xinjiang region, where many Uighurs and other minorities favour independence.

The group said the relays in Tibet and Xinjiang were a "trumped-up operation where local people have been told to stay indoors because they are seen as a threat".

"And never have foreign journalists been so restricted in reporting on an event that has been outrageously politicised by the Chinese government," it said.

[dpa / Expatica]

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