Friday, June 27, 2008

Tibet to reopen to foreigners Wednesday: state media

Dan Martin , AFP
Published: Tuesday, June 24, 2008

BEIJING - China will allow foreign tourists back into Tibet from Wednesday, state-run Xinhua news agency reported, lifting a ban imposed after it cracked down on anti-Chinese unrest three months ago.

The announcement late Tuesday came just three days after China paraded the Beijing Olympic torch through the Tibetan capital Lhasa in a tightly controlled relay which proved the Himalayan region was now "safe" for foreigners, the report said.

"The success of the recent torch relay proved Tibet to be more stabilized and the time was right to reopen," it quoted Tanor, deputy director of the regional tourism authority, as saying.

Tibet is safe. We welcome the domestic and foreign tourists."

Beijing kicked all tourists and foreigners out of Tibet after violent protests against Chinese rule erupted in mid-March, prompting a massive Chinese security clampdown.

The crackdown triggered global condemnation and protests around the world over China's heavy-handed control of the remote Himalayan region.

China allowed mainland Chinese tour groups back in at the end of April, followed by visitors from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan in May.

But it had so far maintained the ban on foreign visitors and overseas journalists, saying Tibet remained "unsafe" for foreigners due to the violent actions of "separatist" forces loyal to the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, whom Beijing blames for the unrest.

Overseas pro-Tibet groups, however, have said China was using the safety issue as an excuse to hide a massive campaign of arrests and political "re-education" aimed at extinguishing any support for the Dalai Lama.

Tanor was quoted as saying two Swedish tourists would arrive in Lhasa on Wednesday, followed by four from Singapore on Sunday.

The report gave no information on any restrictions visitors may face or whether foreign journalists also would be allowed into the Himalayan region.

China's foreign ministry could not immediately provide further information when contacted by AFP.

China's crackdown sparked international protests that dogged the torch's month-long global journey in April before it arrived in China for a nationwide relay.

Exiled Tibetan leaders say 203 people died in the Chinese clampdown on the riots, which began in Lhasa after monks led peaceful protests to mark a 1959 uprising and later spread across the Tibetan plateau.

China has reported killing one Tibetan "insurgent" and says "rioters" were responsible for 21 deaths.

Authorities have released 1,157 people who were involved in the Lhasa riots, Xinhua reported on the eve of Saturday's Olympic torch relay, a move seen as an attempt to defuse tension ahead of the event.

A total of 42 people have been punished by the courts, with another 116 awaiting trial, it said, quoting a senior Tibetan official.

With the Beijing Olympics set to start in less than two months, China faced the prospect of the Games being tarnished by continued overseas criticism of its Tibet policies if it were to have kept the region sealed off.

State media reports also have lamented the impact of the crackdown on the region's tourism industry.

Officials had previously predicted visitors to the remote region would hit five million in 2008, with tourist revenue soaring 24 percent.

But just 120,000 people have visited Tibet since the end of April, according to official figures.

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