Foreign tourists to be barred from Tibet

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2011, 12:00am

Foreign tourists will be banned from Tibet this month, the region's top Communist Party leader has confirmed, saying it is for their safety.

'The winter chill and icy weather, tourists' safety, the insufficient accommodation and the crowds drawn by a string of festivities are reasons behind the restriction in March,' regional party secretary Zhang Qingli said on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the National People's Congress in Beijing.

Zhang said the region would be crowded with Tibetans either celebrating their New Year or praying in numerous religious activities this month, aside from the huge throng of people who would visit for ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of Tibet's liberation in 1951.

'Altogether we have 1,000 hotels ... in which only 165 are entitled to receive foreign travellers,' Zhang said. 'Our capability to accept more tourists is limited, although there are a total of 80,000 beds in various hotels.

'The climate in Tibet is extremely cold. Snow covers almost every corner of the region. Above all, we don't want a single unpleasant incident anywhere in our jurisdiction and that's why we take the travellers' safety and health into consideration.'

A Southern Airlines employee said flights to Lhasa had been suspended because the hotels 'do not have the capacity to accommodate tourists' during the Buddhist festival this month.

A Beijing travel agent said yesterday that people from Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan, would not be allowed to enter Tibet unless they already had the required regional entry permit. He said he had no idea when the ban would be lifted.

Hong Kong residents previously did not need to obtain a special permit to Tibet, although this is necessary for foreign tourists. Air China said non-mainlanders would not be allowed to book air tickets from March 5, unless they had a permit.

The measure sparked speculation that it is really aimed at avoiding an influx of foreigners, particularly journalists, on the third anniversary of the riots in the heart of Lhasa on March 14, 2008, in which Tibetans attacked and killed at least 13 Han Chinese.

Regarded as a hardliner, Zhang, who has ruled the region for five years, accused the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, of conspiring and planning the bloody violence.

'The Dalai is a wolf in monk's robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast,' Zhang said in the Tibet Daily shortly after the riots.

Zhang played down that explosive rhetoric yesterday. 'I'm by no means the first person to address him [the Dalai Lama] in that way. In fact, it is premier Zhou [Enlai] who used such a description weeks after he defected and fled the country in early 1959.'

Former Tibetan chairman Qiangba Puncog yesterday said even when the Dalai Lama dies, it would only trigger small shockwaves in Tibet but would not result in serious instability.