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Travel agencies suspend group trips to Xinjiang
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About 1,450 tourist groups have canceled scheduled trips to Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region as of Wednesday in the wake of the deadly riots in the regional capital Urumqi, a tourism official said Thursday.

"This affected about 84,940 tourists, including 4,396 from abroad," Li Wei, an officer with Xinjiang's tourism bureau, told Xinhua.

Nearly 20 sightseeing shuttle buses were damaged in the riot on Sunday, which left 156 dead and more than 1,000 others injured, Li said.

However, 1,221 travelers in 56 sightseeing groups, including 18 groups of 373 overseas tourists, are still traveling in Xinjiang.

Their travel agencies have adjusted the schedules and they will leave soon, he said.

A local flight ticket agent surnamed Li complained about the poor sales since Sunday's events.

"My office could earn several thousand yuan a day before, but the sales almost stopped now. How could I pay for my six employees?"

Mewlan, who sells Xinjiang handicrafts at Dabazha, one of the sites badly hit by the violence, said she had suffered great economic losses over the past several days.

"No one would come, but I have to support my sick mother, and my kid is disabled," the Uygur woman said, frowning.

Experts and local people estimate that it may take more than a month before the tourism recovers.

Travel agencies in some other parts of China are calling off tourist arrangements to Xinjiang.

"We hope traveling can resume by July 20, but it depends on the status in Xinjiang," said Tang Qiting, deputy manager of marketing with Guangzhilu International Travel Service in Guangzhou, capital of southern Guangdong Province.

Those who had registered for a trip before the suspension may either get a refund or visit places outside Xinjiang under the company's arrangement. "This may affect more than 600 people," she said.

Zeng Yi, manager of marketing and media with another travel agency, Nanhu (south lake), said more than 200 tourists were still traveling in some famous scenic spots in Xinjiang, but outside Urumqi.

"It is safe there. We have canceled traditional visiting and shopping excursions to Urumqi and the tourists will directly go to the airport after finishing the trip," he said.

An unnamed manager with the China International Travel Service in Beijing said their only tourist group in Xinjiang was coming back before finishing the scheduled trip.

"The group was not in Urumqi when the violence broke out Sunday and the tourists are safe," the manager said.

"We are returning fees to registered travelers and helping many others change routes," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency July 9, 2009)

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