China closes Tibet to foreigners amid sensitive anniversaries

Tibetan Buddhist monks attend an event of showing a huge thangka (sacred painting on cloth) depicting Buddha during the Monlam Great Prayer Festival, at Labrang Monastery, in Xiahe, an ethnically-Tibetan town in Gansu province, China, this week. Pic: EPA

China is preventing foreign travellers from visiting Tibet for several weeks amid a pair of sensitive political anniversaries questioning the legitimacy of Beijing's rule over the Himalayan region.

Travel agencies said foreign tourists would not be allowed back into Tibet until April 1.

A Tibetan Buddhist monk performs the Cham Dance ritual during the Monlam Great Prayer Festival, at Labrang Monastery, in Xiahe, an ethnically-Tibetan town in Gansu province, China, this week. Pic: EPA

It is not clear when the ban started, although some monitoring groups said it began this month.

The ban was confirmed by the online customer service portal of the Tibet Youth International Travel Service, as well as staff at the Tibet Vista and Go to Tibet travel agencies.

Both are based in the south-western city of Chengdu - the main jumping-off point for visits to Tibet.

An Ethnic Tibetan man holding a child looks at a huge thangka (sacred painting on cloth) depicting Buddha during the Monlam Great Prayer Festival, at Labrang Monastery, in Xiahe, an ethnically-Tibetan town in Gansu province, China, this week. Pic: EPA

March 10 is the 60th anniversary of an abortive 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet, while anti-government riots occurred on March 14 in 2008, in the regional capital Lhasa.

Although the foreigner travel ban is an annual occurrence, the occasion of the 60th anniversary is drawing added attention.

Amid heavy security on the ground, Tibet is almost entirely closed to foreign journalists and diplomats and information about actual conditions there is difficult to obtain.

The 1959 uprising resulted in the flight of Tibet's traditional Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, into exile in India.

Nearly five decades later, anger exploded in a series of protests in and around Lhasa that culminated in attacks on Chinese individuals and businesses in which the government says rioters killed 18 people.

An unknown number of Tibetans were killed by security forces in the aftermath.

China claims Tibet has been part of its territory for more than seven centuries and regards the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist.

Many Tibetans insist they were essentially independent for most of that time and have protested against what they regard as China's heavy-handed rule imposed after the People's Liberation Army battled its way into the Himalayan region in 1950.

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