Tourism on hold in post-riot Tibet
AP[Wednesday, April 02, 2008 05:41]
By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN, Associated Press Writer
Tue Apr 1,
BEIJING - Tour groups were barred from Tibet and foreign journalists blocked from outlying areas as the region remained under virtual lockdown Tuesday following the Chinese government's crackdown on rioters last month.

China's entirely state-run media, meanwhile, kept up its thunderous denunciations of Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, along with accusations of bias against foreign media over reporting on the largest and most sustained unrest against Chinese rule in almost two decades.

An Associated Press reporter and photographer were detained at a police checkpoint in a Tibetan area of Sichuan province late Monday, despite the elapse of a 10-day ban on foreigners entering the area that should have ended last Thursday.

The detentions also appear to violate China's pledge to allow free reporting in areas outside Tibet through the Beijing Summer Olympic Games in August.

The government has sought to portray life as fast returning to normal in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa — the scene of the deadliest violence — although its landmark Buddhist monasteries of Jokhang, Drepung and Sera were closed and surrounded by troops, tour operators said.

"The Tourism Bureau has forbidden all tourist groups to come into Tibet," said an agent with the Xinzhe Xibuyou travel agency in Lhasa, who gave only his surname, Yang.

He said the Tibet tourism bureau had called a meeting later Tuesday to discuss restarting the travel business. Yang said both foreign and domestic tour groups were expected to be allowed back by the three-day May Day holiday.

State media's constant stream of screeds vilifying the Dalai Lama have in recent days been accompanied by repeated showings of decades-old propaganda films on state television portraying Tibetan society as cruel and primitive before the 1950 invasion by communist troops.

Beijing claims Tibet has been Chinese territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say they were essentially an independent country for much of that time.

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama and his supporters of orchestrating the March 14 Lhasa riots as part of a campaign to sabotage the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Olympics and promote Tibetan independence.

The 72-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner has denied the charge, condemning the violence and urging an independent international investigation into the unrest and its underlying causes.

Monks from the three temples either joined in or were suspected of backing peaceful protests that broke out March 10 on the anniversary of a 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. The protests turned violent four days later and spread across a wide area of western China inhabited by Tibetans.

China has ignored international calls for mediation and refuses to discuss accusations of discrimination, repression and economic disenfranchisement raised by the Dalai Lama and overseas supporters — as well as complaints over alleged shootings and other excesses in the ensuing crackdown.

State media instead has focussed overwhelmingly on the victims of attacks, releasing the names of 14 of the 18 civilians and one police officer it says were killed in the Lhasa riots. All but one were migrants from other parts of China, among the many who have flooded into the region in recent decades.

Xinhua said 12 had been killed in arson attacks, while the cause of death of two others was undetermined and the bodies of four others had not yet been identified.

Authorities earlier said three others, presumably rioters, died when they jumped from windows to escape police.

In all, authorities say 623 people, including 241 police officers, were injured in the violence.

A total of 414 suspects were in custody in connection with the March 14 riots, and another 298 people had voluntarily surrendered, state media quoted officials as saying.