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Report: Tibet reopened to foreign tourists

April 6, 2009

The Associated Press
April 5, 2009

BEIJING (AP) -- China has reopened Tibet to
foreign tourists, state media said Sunday, almost
two months after imposing a ban ahead of politically sensitive anniversaries.

A group of 11 German travelers arrived in the
regional capital of Lhasa late Saturday, the
Xinhua News Agency said. The group was on a
six-day tour, which would take them to a number
of "key scenic spots" before leaving for Nepal, Xinhua said.

China requires foreigners to obtain special
permission to visit Tibet and routinely bars them
from all Tibetan areas of the country during
sensitive periods to keep news of unrest from leaking out.

The latest travel ban on foreigners came in
February and March because of the Tibetan New
Year and anniversaries of Tibetan uprisings
against Chinese rule. A man who answered the
telephone at the Lhasa tourism bureau said he had
not heard the news about the visitors.

Foreign visitors also were not allowed in
ethnically Tibetan areas in Qinghai, Gansu and
Sichuan provinces. Telephones at government
offices and tourism bureaus in those areas were not answered Sunday.

The China Daily newspaper published a photo of
what appeared to be a group of foreign travelers
in brightly colored windbreakers carrying hand
luggage. "German tourists arrived at the railway
station in Lhasa," read the caption on the paper's Web site on Sunday.

Xinhua said that more than 500 foreign tourists
were expected to visit Tibet this month but did not give any details.

State media quoted officials as saying that
travel was suspended to protect visitors.
Authorities, wary of potential unrest, placed the
region under de facto martial law, with troops,
police patrols and checkpoints blanketing the area.

Despite small pockets of protests -- mostly by
monks -- the period went by without any apparent major disturbances.

The Tibetan New Year, which began Feb. 25, was
subdued because of an unofficial boycott of
festivities by Tibetans mourning those who died
last spring in anti-government riots in Lhasa and
Beijing's subsequent crackdown.

Chinese officials say 22 people died, but
Tibetans say many times more were killed in the
March 14 violence, which sparked protests in
Tibetan communities in Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai.

Another potentially explosive date was March 10,
which marked the 50th anniversary of a failed
Tibetan rebellion against Chinese rule that
resulted in the exile of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's Buddhist leader.

This year, Beijing also sought to commemorate the
imposition of direct rule over the Himalayan
region with a newly manufactured holiday crowned
"Serf Liberation Day" on March 28. It marks the
date when Beijing ended the 1959 Tibetan uprising.

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