Beijing: Chinese tourism officials said on Friday that foreigners have been barred from a county in northwestern China, with activists saying security in the area has been stepped up ahead of an expected visit by a government-appointed Tibetan religious leader.
The Panchen Lama is the second-ranked religious leader to Tibetans, after the Dalai Lama. But Tibetans generally do not accept this Panchen Lama because he was appointed by Beijing, while the original boy, selected by the Dalai Lama at age 06, vanished from public eye shortly after being picked.
The activist group International Campaign for Tibet said security has been increased near the Labrang Monastery ahead of the Panchen Lama`s visit in the coming days.
Hotels in Xiahe county in Gansu province near the monastery said they were instructed this week not to accept foreigner visitors. Parts of Gansu are heavily populated with Tibetans and were part of a traditional Tibetan region before modern China was formed.
"We received notices from the county public security bureau and tourism bureau saying that we should not receive foreign guests in our hotel," said a receptionist at the Labrang Minhang Hotel, who would not give her name, as is common among Chinese.
Foreigners who were staying in Xiahe before the ban were asked to leave, according to an official from the Xiahe County Tourism Bureau, who would give only her surname, Li.
The Labrang Monastery has been home to numerous protests by monks following deadly ethnic riots in Tibet in 2008.
China responded to the unrest with a massive military crackdown in which Tibetan rights groups say nearly 140 Tibetans were killed. Tourists from outside the country were banned entirely for more than a year.
China says Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the region was virtually independent for centuries and that Beijing`s control is draining Tibetan culture.