China closes Tibet to all foreign visitors

by Alfie FEATHERSTONE on June 6, 2012

Government authorities in China have closed Tibet’s gates to all foreign tourists, according to a string of travel agents, after months of protests and unrest.

China’s ban on foreigners travelling in Tibet comes just before the start of the peak season for visits to the troubled region, with Saga Dawa, a month-long festival, starting on Monday. Due to the move, hundreds of British travellers will have their holiday plans ruined.

If the move is verified, it is likely to be viewed as a direct response to protests by two Tibetans in May month, who set themselves alight outside Lhasa’s Jokhang temple - a Buddhist shrine which each year receives thousands of visitors per day. Several tour operators based in Beijing have made claims that China’s tourism bureau has requested that they stop taking non-Chinese visitors to Tibet.

One member of staff employed by Tibet China International Tour Service commented that the tourism bureau asked his company to stop arranging group trips to Tibet for foreign tourists at the end of the May.  According to sources, there is no set date for when the ban will be lifted as of yet.

If the rumours are proven to be true, this wouldn’t be the first time that China has banned its foreign visitors from entering Tibet – especially during times of unrest or during religious festivals. The most recent ban was in 2008 after a violent wave of protests in Lhasa. Thankfully though, the ban was scrapped prior to the Beijing Olympics that year.

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