Tibet reopens to foreign tourists from May 1


Riot-torn Tibet will be reopened to foreign tourists next month after a six-week closure, Chinese official media said, a move expected to revive the hard-hit tourism industry in the impoverished but scenic mountain area.


The Tibet Autonomous Region government will resume giving foreigners permits on May 1, for the first time since March 16, which was two days after deadly riots in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, a media reports said.


Foreigners have been barred from Tibet tours for their safety and because of riot damage to tourist spots, Xinhua news agency and the English-language China Daily newspaper reported, quoting Tibetan regional officials.


Foreigners who were in Tibet during the riots also gave eyewitness accounts to the international media, frustrating China's efforts to control information.


"The Lhasa riots might cast a shadow in the minds of tourists, but the spectacular natural scenery and unique cultural attractions of Tibet would lure an ever-increasing number of tourists from home and abroad," the China Daily said, citing a Tibet tourism bureau official.


Travellers include Western backpackers seeking alpine scenery and Buddhist landmarks, as well as short-term students from Japan, tour agents say.


Agents, hotels and shops in Tibetan areas of western China have reported seeing hardly any visitors to the heavily militarised area due to the ban on inbound foreigners and fear among Chinese tourists, who are still allowed to go.


Trouble in the remote Himalyan region that China's Communist troops entered in 1950, began with a series of Buddhist monk-led protests that touched off the Lhasa riots. Protests have since hit other Tibetan areas of China.


China says 18 civilians died in the Lhasa violence but exiled representatives of Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, say about 140 people died in Tibetan areas.


China blames the Dalai Lama, whom it labels a separatist, and his followers for stirring up the Lhasa violence to try to discredit the Olympics. But the 72-year-old Buddhist leader has repeatedly expressed support for the Beijing Games.


Tourism in Tibet took off in the 1980s, supplementing income staples such as herding and infrastructure projects. Boosted by extra flights and a high-elevation railway that opened in 2006, tourist numbers rose 60 per cent to 4 million people in 2007, state media said. (Reuters)