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Tibet re-opens to foreign tourists
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Tibet would re-open to foreign tourists on Wednesday after a stoppage of more than three months due to the March 14 riot in the regional capital of Lhasa, a local official said Tuesday.

The first foreign tourists, two Swedes, would arrive in Lhasa on Wednesday, and another four from Singapore would come on Sunday, said Tanor, deputy director of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Bureau of Tourism.

Tibet has been re-opened to domestic tour groups since April 23, followed by visitors from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan in May. As of June 20, the region had received more than 160 tour groups.

"The tourists experienced by themselves the stable situation, harmonious society and beautiful environment in Tibet," Tanor said.

"The success of the Olympic torch relay held three days ago in Lhasa demonstrated that the foundation for the social stability has been further consolidated."

Also Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters in Beijing Tibet would not change the policy of opening-up.

The regional government stopped issuing tourist permits to overseas travelers and the tourism authorities suggested travel agencies postpone organizing tour groups in the wake of the riot. It cited safety concerns and the reconstruction of tourism facilities around scenic spots damaged in the unrest.

Independent domestic travelers have not been prohibited from entering the region.

The riot, involving violent crimes against people and property, was organized, premeditated and masterminded by the Dalai Lama clique.

The riot led to the deaths of at least 18 civilians and one policeman. It also left 382 civilians and 241 police officers injured, businesses looted and residences, shops and vehicles torched.

Following three months, peace has gradually returned, with the resumption of schools, businesses and religious activities, as well as the re-opening of leading monasteries such as Jokhang, Ramoche, Sera and Drepung.

"I don't worry about the personal safety here at all. It's safe and the people are very friendly," a tourist surnamed Tseng in his fifties from Hsinchu, Taiwan, told Xinhua on Tuesday evening.

"Since the government announced the re-opening decision, I think it shows Tibet is indeed safe now."

Local travel agencies have also prepared for a tourist surge.

"We are ready," said Huang Lihua, general manager of the Tibet Tourism Corp., the largest travel agency in the region.

"We are now doing two things: first, to resume the previous tour groups cancelled after the riot; secondly, to step up promotion and invite more groups," he said.

The remote southwestern region had experienced a tourism boom in the past few years, especially since the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet railway on July 1, 2006. It linked Tibet with the rest of China for the first time by rail.

Tibet received 4 million tourists from both home and abroad last year, up 60 percent from 2006. Tourism revenue reached 4.8 billion yuan (699million U.S. dollars), accounting for more than 14 percent of the region's gross domestic product.

In the first two months of this year, the tourism business grew robustly in the region, greeting 110,000 tourists, including 6,000 from overseas, up 60 percent from the same period a year earlier. The March, April and May figures were not immediately available.

Before the riot, the regional government had expected the number of visitors to increase by 25 percent year-on-year to hit 5 million in 2008, and tourism revenue to increase by 24 percent to reach 6 billion yuan (873 million U.S. dollars).

"We will still strive for the goal," Wang Songping, another Tibet Autonomous Regional Bureau of Tourism deputy director, told Xinhua.

"Usually, January to April is the low season for Tibet," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency June 25, 2008)

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