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China insists Tibet open to tourists

February 27, 2009

February 26, 2009

BEIJING (AFP) - China insisted on Thursday that Tibet has not been
closed to foreign tourists as tensions built over Chinese rule in the
Himalayan region, despite travel agencies reporting a government-ordered
ban.

"To my understanding, up to date, no agencies in Tibet have received
instructions to restrict the entrance of foreign visitors to Tibet,"
foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told reporters.

Four government-run travel agencies in China and other industry people
in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, told AFP that Tibet had been closed to
foreign tourists.

The reported ban came ahead of the highly sensitive 50th anniversary of
a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet on March 10, which led
to the escape of the region's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Next month also marks a year since peaceful protests that began on the
49th anniversary of the uprising escalated into violent rioting in Lhasa
and across the Tibetan plateau.

There has been a reported increase in security forces in the region
ahead of the anniversaries, and the Dalai Lama warned Tuesday that harsh
measures taken by Chinese authorities were designed to provoke Tibetans
into remonstrating.

"When this happens the authorities can then indulge in (an)
unprecedented and unimaginable forceful clampdown," he said in a statement.

He called for Tibetans to boycott celebrations for their New Year, which
began on Wednesday, in protest against Chinese rule.

But Ma said Tibet was stable and its people happy.

"As you see on television, Tibetan people are jubilant and radiant with
joy in celebrating their festival," he said.

The information is difficult to verify as foreign journalists are barred
from travelling to Tibet independently, and Chinese television is run by
the state.

Tourists were banned from the Himalayan region immediately after the
unrest last year, and foreign travellers were only allowed back in at
the end of June.

China has ruled Tibet since 1951, a year after sending in troops to
"liberate" the region.

Tibet's government-in-exile said the government crackdown following last
year's unrest left 200 Tibetans dead.

China denies this, but has reported police killed one "insurgent" and
blamed Tibetan "rioters" for 21 deaths.
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