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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 closes ethnic Tibetan areas to foreigners

March 20, 2008

YAJIANG, China, March 19 (Reuters) - Chinese security forces have
blocked foreigners from entering ethnic Tibetan areas of remote western
China, amid reports of anti-government protests spreading to Tibet's
neighbouring provinces.

China has been grappling to quell unrest in several Tibetan towns and
villages in the country's west, after Buddhist monk-led demonstrations
in Tibet's capital Lhasa turned violent on Friday.

The government in recent days has asked foreigners in Tibet to leave and
has suspended approving travel permits to the Himalayan region. Media
watchdogs have reported that authorities have expelled journalists
reporting there.

Foreigners travelling in western Sichuan province were taken off a
public bus at a police check-point at Yajiang, a village on a major
highway leading to Lhasa, and sent on a mini-bus to Kangding, a city
further east.

"It is closed to all foreigners and tourists. There is nothing to see
now, but you're welcome to come back some other time," a police officer
at the check-point in Yajiang said.

When asked for a reason, the officer said: "It's not safe."

"The hotels are closed, the restaurants are closed, there is nothing
going on," another police officer said.

"The further you go in that direction (west), the greater the
difficulties," she said.

Yajiang lies on the route to Lithang, a town of about 40,000 people,
where troops had surrounded a local monastery and Tibetans had been
arrested, a resident told Reuters.

A Reuters correspondent in Sichuan said an army camp had been set up en
route to the ethnic Tibetan town and saw convoys carrying troops driving
west towards Tibet.

The authorities have said Lhasa was returning to normal but overseas
groups have reported protests and heavy police presence in western Gansu
province's ethnic Tibetan towns of Xiahe and Gannan.

The Tibetan government-in-exile says 99 people died when Chinese
security forces moved to quell last week's rioting. The government puts
the death toll at 13.

Wary that images of civil unrest and violence could tarnish China's
image ahead of the Olympic Games in August, the government has clamped
down on news reporting in its restive western region.

Reporters in Lhasa and three other Chinese cities have been blocked from
reporting in 30 separate incidents, including being tailed by
authorities and having footage confiscated, the Foreign Correspondents
Club of China said in a statement. (Reporting by John Ruwitch)
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