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Tibet to be reopened to tourists on May 1

11 April, 2008

After the prolonged Tibetan unrest, the Chinese government has decided to reopen Tibet to tourists on May 1, 2008.

Tibet has been closed to domestic as well as foreign tourists since March 16, 2008, two days after violent riots broke out in Lhasa, capital of Tibet.

Zhanor, deputy director of Tibet’s tourism bureau, said organised tours and independent travellers could return to Tibet beginning in May, according to China Daily, China’s official English-language newspaper.

The riots that took place in Lhasa, Zhanor added, “might cast a shadow in the minds of tourists, but the spectacular natural scenery and unique cultural attractions of Tibet would lure an ever-increasing number of tourists from home and abroad.”

Authorities in Lhasa stated that tourism was closed in Tibet because of safety concerns and damage to property during violent anti-China protests.

However, the Chinese authorities have not shown any sign of lifting restrictions that prevent foreign journalists from freely visiting Tibet and other Tibetan regions in western China to report on episodes of ethnic unrest, the New York Times newspaper has reported.

China’s official news agency Xinhua has reported that 18 civilians died in the violence in Lhasa. Exiled representatives of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, whom China accuses of planning the unrest in Tibet, claim that about 140 people died.

The Communist Party officials in Tibet are planning trials in April 2008 for people arrested in the Tibetan violence, according to China Post, the leading English-language newspaper published from Taiwan.

China Post quoted Wang Xiangming, a deputy secretary of the Communist Party in Lhasa, as saying that over 1,200 people would be prosecuted.

The foreign affairs office of the Tibetan regional government had stopped issuing tourist permits to foreign travellers on March 16, 2008, following the riots in Lhasa on March 14, citing safety concerns. Tibet’s tourism bureau had also recommended that Chinese travel agencies put off their tour plans.

Wang Songping, another deputy director of Tibet’s regional tourism bureau, was quoted by China Daily as saying: “In addition to safety concerns, the decision to close tourism in Tibet was made because tourism facilities around scenic spots, such as the Jokhang temple suffered considerable damage in the riots.”

The Potala Palace, which is on the world cultural heritage list, was reopened to tourists on March 26, 10 days after it was closed for “security reasons” following the unrest. On the first day of reopening, Chinese officials said, only 24 tourists and 75 Tibetan Buddhists visited the palace.

According to Chinese officials in Tibet, 80% of the stores damaged in the riots are back in business. Except for those in Barkhor Street and Ramoche Temple areas, which were hard-hit by the riots, all other leading shops, supermarkets and farm-produce fairs have reopened in Lhasa, they added.

Official figures say that, over the past few years, especially after the Qinghai-Tibet railway started operations in July 2006, tourism has developed into a leading industry for Tibet. In all, 4 million tourists from home and abroad visited Tibet in 2007 – up by 60% from 2006.

In the first two months of 2008, an estimated 110,000 tourists visited Tibet, including 6,000 from overseas, according to local tourism officials.





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