For uprising's anniversary, China closes Tibet to all foreigners
Agence France-Presse
Published: Tuesday February 24, 2009

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Beijing (AFP) - China has closed Tibet to foreign tourists ahead of next month's highly sensitive 50th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule, tour agencies and other industry people said on Tuesday.

The ban comes amid deep tensions in the Himalayan region, with a reported increase in security forces and a call by the Dalai Lama for a boycott of Tibetan New Year celebrations on Wednesday, in protest against Chinese rule.

"Authorities asked tour agents to stop organising foreigners coming to Tibet for tour trips until April 1," an employee of a government-run travel agency in Lhasa said. The employee could not be named for fear of reprisals.

He said the city's tourism bureau had decided this at a meeting in mid-February, although it was unclear when exactly the orders were given.

A hotel in the Tibetan capital and three travel agencies in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu that normally organise trips into Tibet also confirmed the ban on foreigners.

"Foreigners cannot go there in March because we have stopped giving out permits," an employee at the Chengdu Overseas Tourism Company, another government-run travel agency, said.

This is the second time in less than a year that the Himalayan region has been sealed off to foreign tourists.

The Chinese government banned travellers from going to Tibet immediately after riots erupted in Lhasa on March 14 after four days of peaceful protests to mark the 49th anniversary of the failed uprising against Chinese rule.

The uprising, which took place on March 10, 1959, led to Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fleeing his homeland.

On Tuesday, the Dalai Lama said restrictions had been placed on monasteries in Tibet as well as on foreign tourists, warning of an "unprecedented and unimaginable forceful clampdown" in the region.

"The strike-hard campaign has been re-launched in Tibet and there is a heavy presence of armed security and military forces ... all over Tibet," he said Tuesday.

China's recent moves suggested it planned "to subject the Tibetan people to such a level of cruelty and harassment that they will not be able to tolerate and thus be forced to remonstrate," he said.

"When this happens, the authorities can then indulge in an unprecedented and unimaginable forceful clampdown," he added.

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

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

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

Foreign tourists were allowed back in at the end of June, but only as part of an official tour group and after applying for a permit.

China Tuesday said foreigners were still able to apply to go to Tibet through "normal channels," but did not say whether applications would be accepted.

"The policy of an open Tibet will not change," foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told reporters.

"As for foreign people, including foreign journalists travelling to Tibet, they can apply through normal channels."

Calls made to the government of Tibet went unanswered.

Authorities have vowed to ensure there is no unrest next month.

Leaders in Tibet last week said they would "firmly crush the savage aggression of the Dalai clique, defeat separatism, and wage people's war to maintain stability," the state-run Tibet Daily reported.

The China Tibet News also reported in January that police had investigated over 8,400 people and detained 81 during a week-long "Strike Hard" campaign in Lhasa.

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