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China 'Not Ready' for Tibet Pilgrims

May 22, 2008

AFP
May 20, 2008

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian pilgrims hoping to visit a revered site in the Chinese region of Tibet, hit by violent protests against Beijing, found their trips stalled Tuesday.

The Indian foreign ministry, which is working with Chinese authorities to make arrangements for almost 1,000 pilgrims selected by lottery, said Beijing had informed New Delhi it was not ready for the visitors.

"The annual Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage for year 2008 was scheduled to commence from June 1," foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said in a statement.

"The government of People's Republic of China conveyed to the Ministry of External Affairs that on account of domestic reasons they would not be in a position to receive pilgrims before June 21, 2008."

Beijing has been limiting access to Tibet after riots against Chinese rule broke out in the Himalayan region in March.

China says Tibetan "rioters" and "insurgents" killed 21 people, although the Indian-based Tibetan government-in-exile says 203 Tibetans were killed and 1,000 wounded in Beijing's crackdown.

China was originally supposed to reopen Tibet to foreigners on May 1 but put off those plans.

Neighbouring Sichuan province was also hit by a deadly earthquake last week that left close to 70,000 people dead or missing.

The first of the staggered groups of pilgrims were to depart New Delhi in less than two weeks but their hopes of participating in the trip, which takes three weeks and costs more than 1,200 dollars, are now in limbo.

"The Ministry of External Affairs had to cancel the batch numbers one and two," Sarna said.

"The Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage for year 2008 will now commence from the batch number three, which is scheduled to depart New Delhi on June 13."

The popular Hindu pilgrimage is a homage to the Shiva, the serpent-draped god of destruction believed to make his home on the Himalayan mountain of Kailash.

The mountain sits near the shores of Manas Lake, the highest fresh-water lake in the world, which Hindus believe sprang from the forehead of Brahma, the god of creation.

The centuries-old pilgrimage saw a lengthy hiatus after 1959, when an uprising against Chinese rule was quickly put down and led to an exodus of Tibetans, including spiritual leader Dalai Lama, to India.

It resumed under an agreement between India and China from 1981.
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