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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

China Reopens Tibet to Foreign Tourists

June 27, 2008

The Associated Press
June 25, 2008

BEIJING (AP) -- Tibet reopened to foreign tourists on Wednesday,
three months after the Chinese government banned such visits in the
wake of violent anti-government riots and protests that tainted the
image of the country ahead of the Olympics.

The first foreign tourists, a retired Swedish couple, arrived at the
airport near the capital, Lhasa, on Wednesday, said Tibetan Tourism
Bureau spokesman Liao Lisheng.

"Tibet is open now to all travelers from home and abroad," he said.

Kurt Persson, 77, and Eva Sandstrom, 62, were welcomed with
traditional Tibetan white silk scarves at their hotel near the sacred
Jokhang Temple, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

"We've been looking forward to visiting Tibet for many years. Its
monasteries and landscapes are fascinating," Xinhua quoted Sandstrom as saying.

The five-day trip is their first to Tibet, Xinhua said. "We have no
worries about the safety here," Sandstrom said. "The only worry was
to get the permission to come."

The Himalayan region has been all but closed to the outside world
since the biggest protests against Chinese rule in two decades
exploded into rioting March 14 in Lhasa, leading Beijing to swiftly
shut off the area.

Troops also flooded into predominantly Tibetan communities in nearby
provinces, where sympathy demonstrations were occurring. They
performed drills in town squares and set up checkpoints around
sensitive areas. Officials said the restrictions were established for
the safety of foreign tourists and journalists.

China says 22 people died in the anti-government protests. But
overseas Tibet supporters say many times that number were killed in
the riots and the resulting security crackdown.

A notice on the tourism bureau's Web site announcing the lifting of
the ban said life in Lhasa had returned to normal.

"Tibet's society is stable and harmonious, its markets bustling, and
its environment beautiful," it said.

But there are still signs of tension.

Hundreds of alleged perpetrators have been arrested in the last three
months, with many sentenced to years or life in prison for their role
in the protests.

Buddhist monasteries -- seen as incubators for anti-government
sentiment -- remain subject to searches by police and monks are
forced to undergo political indoctrination against the Dalai Lama,
Tibet's exiled spiritual leader. The Drepung monastery remains closed
to visitors.

And despite the lifting of the ban, it's not clear how accessible
Tibet really is, given that foreign visas to China are being
restricted in the run-up to the Aug. 8 Beijing Olympics, said Michael
C. Davis, a law professor and China expert at The Chinese University
of Hong Kong.

"In name, they could lift the restrictions but still have them across
the board," he said.

Foreigners need a separate permit from an official travel agency to
enter Tibet and are required to hire a guide for travel outside Lhasa.

"If they don't have an agenda, like separating the country or trying
to cause damage, then the foreign tourists can have an entry permit,"
said Liao, the tourism bureau spokesman.

Last week's Olympic torch run through Lhasa was carefully
orchestrated after it was cut to one day from the original three.
Crowds were monitored by security agents and only a few hand-picked
foreign journalists, who even under ordinary conditions must apply
for permission to visit Tibet, were invited to cover the event.

The three-hour relay was apparently completed without incident.

It had been considered a flashpoint amid criticism by overseas
Tibetan activist groups who accuse Beijing of using the event to
symbolize its control over the region. China says it has ruled Tibet
for centuries, although many Tibetans say their homeland was
essentially independent for much of that time.

The March violence and tourist ban have taken a major toll on Lhasa's
economy, which has become increasingly reliant on tourism since the
start of rail service nearly two years ago.

Hotels in Lhasa said they'd had almost no customers recently.

"We've had zero business since the Lhasa rioting, not even a penny,"
said Deji, the manager of booking at Hotel Kyichu in Lhasa. She
refused to give her full name, a possible sign of continuing
nervousness over being identified by authorities as a troublemaker.

Deji said it will take at least three years for business to return to
normal, and that half of the hotel's employees had changed jobs or
stayed home since March.

Tibet had 4 million visitors in 2007, up 60 percent from the previous
year, Xinhua reported earlier this year. Tourism revenues hit $687
million, accounting for more than 14 percent of the economy.

(This version CORRECTS AMs. SUBS 15th graf, 'And despite the ...' to
correct name of university)
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