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Tibet reopens to foreign tourism, with restrictions for journalists and tourists

June 27, 2008

AsiaNews (Italy)
June 26, 2008

More than three months after the repression, foreign tourists are
returning to Tibet, but they need special permits to go outside of
Lhasa. Severe restrictions are still in place for journalists.
Meanwhile, those who protested remain in prison, and talks with the
Dalai Lama are not moving forward.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Tibet has been reopened to foreign
tourists, after more than three months of complete closure following
the social protests that erupted in March, and the following
repression.  Restrictions remain in place, for example concerning
access for journalists: Liu Jianchao, spokesman for the foreign
ministry, told journalists at a June 24 press conference that they
will be readmitted "as soon as possible, when the situation in Tibet
further returns to normal".

Tourists are able to travel only to Lhasa, but they can visit the
rest of the region only in organised groups and with a special
permit.  Tourism operators say the restrictions are the typical
bureaucratic delays.  There is still an army presence in the city (in
the photo).

Meanwhile, the first tourists in many months are starting to arrive
in the empty hotels.  Tourism operators and many citizens of the
area, mostly of Han ethnicity, describe a completely normal situation
and speak only of tourism and the Olympics: they express concern that
it will take time for tourism to return to the vigorous levels
typical of the summer.  Chinese travellers have been admitted again
since the end of April, and those from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan
since May.  In 2007, Tibet received 4 million visitors (+60% compared
to 2006) for a value of 687 million dollars, more than 14% of the
regional economy.

Tranor, the vice director for the Tibetan tourism office, says that
there is "total stability", and that even the monasteries where the
monks protested are open to tourists.  He emphasises how the torch
passed through Lhasa on June 21 without problems.  According to the
initial programme, the torch was supposed to be in Tibet for three
days, but the passage was reduced to only one day because of fears of
protests by pro-Tibet activists, although the official reason for the
change was the earthquake in Sichuan.

Last week, Beijing admitted that 116 people are still in prison for
protesting, but pro-Tibet groups say that there are many
more.  Following international pressure, Beijing began talks with the
Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, to seek a solution.  But
the second round of talks has been delayed because of the earthquake,
and Beijing does not seem to be in a hurry to resume them.
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