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Tibetan areas closed to visitors till late March

Tibetan areas closed to visitors till late March

Author: Associate Press
Publication: The Asian Age
Date: February 13, 2009

Swaths of western China that have large Tibetan populations have been declared off limits to foreign visitors, local officials confirmed on Thursday, ahead of the politically sensitive 50th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising.

An official at the tourism office of north-western Gansu province's Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, which is home to a major monastery and large Tibetan communities, said the region was again closed to foreigners and would not be open until late March. The official, who did not identify himself, as is common in China, did not say when the restrictions were put in place. March 10 marks the 50th anniversary of a failed rebellion in Tibet against Chinese rule. The Dalai Lama was forced to flee into exile in India after the uprising was crushed.

In 2008, protests to mark the anniversary spun out of control, with deadly riots breaking out in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. The Chinese government says 22 people died in the riots, but Tibetan advocates say many times that number were killed in the protests and subsequent crackdown.

Sympathy protests quickly spread outside Tibet to neighbouring provinces of Gansu, Sichuan, and Qinghai, which all have large ethnic Tibetan communities.

However, they were quelled by a huge military presence installed in the area. Tibet itself has always been off-limits to the international media unless special permits are obtained. China did put on a rare and controlled tour of Tibet this week for some foreign reporters.

Several organisations, including the AP, were excluded. In Sichuan province, many areas open two weeks ago are now closed to foreign tourists until April, according to officials at the Ganzi prefecture tourist bureau. Qinghai province has also closed many areas to foreigners.

On Thursday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu described the current situation in Tibet as "stable" but acknowledged that foreign reporters have had difficulty accessing the area.


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