06/26/2008, 00.00
TIBET - CHINA

Tibet reopens to foreign tourism, with restrictions for journalists and tourists

More than three months after the repression, foreign tourists are returning to Tibet, but they need special permits to go outside of Lhasa. Severe restrictions are still in place for journalists. Meanwhile, those who protested remain in prison, and talks with the Dalai Lama are not moving forward.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Tibet has been reopened to foreign tourists, after more than three months of complete closure following the social protests that erupted in March, and the following repression.  Restrictions remain in place, for example concerning access for journalists: Liu Jianchao, spokesman for the foreign ministry, told journalists at a June 24 press conference that they will be readmitted "as soon as possible, when the situation in Tibet further returns to normal".

Tourists are able to travel only to Lhasa, but they can visit the rest of the region only in organised groups and with a special permit.  Tourism operators say the restrictions are the typical bureaucratic delays.  There is still an army presence in the city (in the photo).

Meanwhile, the first tourists in many months are starting to arrive in the empty hotels.  Tourism operators and many citizens of the area, mostly of Han ethnicity, describe a completely normal situation and speak only of tourism and the Olympics: they express concern that it will take time for tourism to return to the vigorous levels typical of the summer.  Chinese travellers have been admitted again since the end of April, and those from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan since May.  In 2007, Tibet received 4 million visitors (+60% compared to 2006) for a value of 687 million dollars, more than 14% of the regional economy.

Tranor, the vice director for the Tibetan tourism office, says that there is "total stability", and that even the monasteries where the monks protested are open to tourists.  He emphasises how the torch passed through Lhasa on June 21 without problems.  According to the initial programme, the torch was supposed to be in Tibet for three days, but the passage was reduced to only one day because of fears of protests by pro-Tibet activists, although the official reason for the change was the earthquake in Sichuan.

Last week, Beijing admitted that 116 people are still in prison for protesting, but pro-Tibet groups say that there are many more.  Following international pressure, Beijing began talks with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, to seek a solution.  But the second round of talks has been delayed because of the earthquake, and Beijing does not seem to be in a hurry to resume them.

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