China suspends foreign tours to Tibet

China suspends foreign tours to Tibet

China has suspended tours by foreigners to its Tibet Autonomous Region, state media said on Tuesday, two days before a sensitive anniversary in the region, dpa reported.

The suspension was "mainly due to the current cold winter weather, limited accommodation capacity and safety concerns," the official Xinhua news agency quoted Zhang Qingli, the regional secretary for the ruling Communist Party, as saying on Monday.

Zhang said the suspension was also because "lots of religious activities" were planned and the region was preparing for a "grand ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the peaceful liberation of Tibet."

Wednesday is the 52nd anniversary of a Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule on March 10, 1959.

The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, is expected to issue an anniversary statement on Wednesday.

An anniversary protest on March 10, 2008 in Lhasa, the regional capital, escalated into rioting that left at least 21 people dead, the government said.

Tibetan exile groups put the death toll at more than 200 and claimed that many Tibetans were killed by Chinese paramilitary police.

The anonymous authors of online calls for nationwide anti-government "Jasmine rallies" have also identified the central square in Lhasa as a site for weekly protests.

It is not known if any protesters have gathered in Lhasa's Barkhor Square, which is normally heavily policed, since the first protests were encouraged on February 20.

China suspended all tours to Tibet following the 2008 rioting and has suspended foreign tours at least twice since then.

Foreign tourists need a special permit in addition to a Chinese visa and they must register with a travel agency, while the region has always been closed to foreign journalists except for government-run tours.

The Tibet Autonomous Region hoped to attract some 7.5 million tourists and earn about 7.6 billion yuan (1.15 billion dollars) from tourism this year, the agency said.

It said Zhang also reiterated the government's view of the Dalai Lama as a "wolf in monk's robes" who wanted to separate Tibet from China.

The Dalai Lama has repeatedly said he is not seeking independence but greater political and religious autonomy for Tibetans in China.

Chinese Communist troops took control of Tibet in 1951. The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese occupation.

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