(Reuters) - China will reopen the restive mountainous region of Tibet to foreign tourists "soon" and temples will also resume religious activities, state media said on Saturday, in the wake of pro-independence protests last month.
"The Tibet tourism bureau is doing its utmost to prepare for the reopening of all tourist spots," the official China Daily cited a government statement as saying, though it did not provide an exact date.
Chinese media had reported that the region would reopen to foreign tourists from May 1, though officials have not confirmed this and a U.S.-based rights group says Beijing does not plan to allow foreigners in until after this August's Olympics.
Tourism is a vital source of cash for the impoverished region, where 4 million tourists last year flocked to see historic temples, experience Tibetan culture and enjoy breathtaking natural scenery.
All foreigners visiting Tibet need special permits.
The Xinhua news agency added that Lhasa temples affected by the unrest would also restart their religious activities soon.
It paraphrased Tibetan official Tubdain Cewang as saying "Lhasa's temples were recovering from the riot, with religious activities returning to order, and would reopen to tourists in the near future."
The Drepung Monastery "will soon hold activities including Buddhist services and debates on Buddhist doctrines five times every month, as before the March 14 riot hit the city," it quoted the temple's administrative director Ngawang Dongjue, as saying.
That report did not provide a date either.
Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, of masterminding the unrest as part of a bid for independence and with an eye to spoiling the Beijing Games. The Dalai Lama rejects the accusations and says he does not seek independence for Tibet.
On Saturday, a small group of people gathered near the French embassy in Beijing protesting disruptions to the Olympic torch relay in Paris, holding banners saying: "Tibet belongs to China" and "Shut up you French." Riot police sealed off the streets leading to the embassy, and the group soon dispersed.
There were also more protests outside branches of French supermarket chain Carrefour in several regional Chinese cities, with protesters carrying signs demanding boycotts of French goods and pledging their support for the Olympics.
The torch was in Bangkok on Saturday, where security was tight following sometimes violent attempts to disrupt the relay in Europe and the Americas earlier this month.
China continued its verbal attacks on the Dalai Lama on Saturday, blasting him in the overseas edition of the Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily for trying to use the cause of human rights to advance his agenda.
"'Human rights' seems like a trump card that the Dalai has a keen interest in. He loves to play it, and he plays it well," the newspaper said in a commentary on its front page signed by a senior editor.
But his failure to condemn "the cruel injuries inflicted on innocent Tibetans and Chinese by hooligans and their burning of shops and schools," showed his true colors, it added.
"In the history of China and other countries, is it possible to find a 'human rights guard' like this?" the newspaper said.
The Dalai Lama has spoken out against the use of violence, calling for talks with China and backing the Beijing Games.