Tibet again closed to foreigners: travel agents

Foreign tourists will be barred from going to Tibet until the end of July, travel agents said Monday, the second time this year the troubled region has been closed to overseas visitors.

"At the moment we're not admitting foreign tourists," an employee at China Travel Service in the regional capital Lhasa told AFP by phone, adding the agency had received a notice saying this would be enforced until July 26.

A worker at the Tibet Youth Travel Service agency confirmed the ban, saying it begins on Tuesday and was linked to celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of China's rule over Tibet, reportedly scheduled for July.

The official Global Times newspaper quoted the Lhasa-based manager of a travel website as saying they would not accept tourists holding foreign passports until mid-August due to "safety concerns."

The regional tourism bureau refused to comment when contacted by AFP, and a spokesman for the Tibetan government said he was unaware of the situation.

Tensions run deep in Tibet, where many Tibetans accuse the government of trying to dilute their culture, and cite concern about what they view as increasing domination by China's majority Han ethnic group.

Disquiet spilled over into violent anti-government riots in Lhasa in March 2008, which then spread to neighbouring provinces with significant Tibetan populations.

In the wake of the 2008 unrest, foreign tourists were banned from travelling to the Himalayan region for more than 12 months.

In March this year, Tibet was once again closed to foreigners ahead of the third anniversary of the riots, but travel agencies said overseas visitors had been able to visit from April to June.

Even when foreigners are allowed in, authorities require them to obtain special permits - in addition to Chinese visas - and also travel in tour groups.

China, which says living standards in the region have improved markedly since it started ruling the region in 1951, has increased security in Tibetan areas since the 2008 unrest.

But reports of unrest still surface. One region in the southwestern province of Sichuan was hit by demonstrations earlier this year after a Tibetan monk self-immolated and died in an apparent anti-government protest.

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