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Source: The Daily Telegraph
The Chinese government is to spend more than £40 million building 22 model villages in Tibet, in a bid to boost tourism to the troubled region.
According to the official Xinhua News Agency, the villages will be constructed in Nyingchi County, a picturesque region around 200 miles southeast of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.
China, which has attempted to expand the Tibetan economy in hopes of winning over ethnic residents, hopes to turn Nyingchi into an international tourist destination. It said that residents would be able to make money by providing family hotel services. However, the plan could be opposed by many Tibetans, who have accused the Chinese government of religious persecution and cultural assimilation in the name of economic development.
The announcement comes just weeks after its decision to ban foreigners from visiting Tibet, following months of protests and unrest at Chinese rule.
In May two Tibetans set fire to themselves outside Jokhang temple in Lhasa, a Buddhist shrine that receives thousands of visitors each day. Although at least 37 people have carried out similar protests since March last year, it was the first recorded self-immolation attempt in Lhasa, a popular destination for foreign tourists. China has banned foreign tourists from visiting Tibet before, usually during periods of unrest and during religious festivals.
Even when foreigners are permitted into Tibet, tours are closely monitored, travellers must apply for a special visa and they will be accompanied by a government-appointed guide. All foreign tour operators must make their arrangements through Chinese firms.
The ban could last until November, according to some reports, and hundreds of British holidaymakers have now been forced to cancel their upcoming trips to the region. One firm, Wendy Wu Tours, has already scrapped all its holidays to the region until at least 2013.
The ban has had little impact on overall visitor numbers, however, as Tibet is a hugely popular destination for domestic tourists. According to the Xinhua News Agency, foreigners accounted for two per cent of the 1.45 million visitors to Tibet in the first five months of 2012.