China to allow tourists to return to Tibet from May 1
(dpa) - China will allow foreign and local tourists to begin visiting its Tibet Autonomous Region again from May 1, after suspending tours because of protests and rioting in the regional capital in mid-March, state media said on Thursday.
All travel agencies would be allowed to arrange tours and "independent travellers would also be welcome," the official Xinhua news agency quoted Zhanor, the deputy director of the regional tourism bureau, as saying.
The announcement followed a promise by Zhang Qingli, the regional secretary of China's ruling Communist Party, that "normal social order" would be restored in time for tourists to visit during the peak season over the May Day holiday, the agency said.
Zhang said the region, which has become a magnet for Chinese tourists since the opening of the first railway to Lhasa in 2006, would present an "open image and sound environment" to visitors.
Pro-independence demonstrations and unrest began in Tibetan areas on March 10, the 49th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.
The protests escalated into rioting on March 14 in Lhasa.
The Chinese government has said 19 people were killed in the violence in Lhasa but the Tibetan government-in-exile said about 140 people were killed, most of them Tibetans shot by Chinese police.
Protests erupted in dozens of other Tibetan areas of China, which is home to about six million Tibetans, including some 2.5 million in the Autonomous Region.
All foreigners require a special permit to visit the region, in addition to a Chinese visa.
The permits are intended to be issued to members of tour groups, although some foreigners do manage to travel to the region without permits.
Additional permits are required for foreigners travelling in sensitive Tibetan areas close to China's long borders with India and Nepal.
Until January 1 last year, foreign journalists were only allowed to visit the region on government-organized trips.
Under temporary Olympic media regulations until October 17 this year, foreign journalists can travel Tibet on the same conditions as other foreigners but will likely be subjected to closer monitoring than in other areas of China.