April 30, 2009 / 4:24 AM / 8 years ago

China starts building fifth airport in Tibet

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has started building a fifth civil airport in restless and mountainous Tibet, hoping to boost the number of visitors to the remote region, state media said on Thursday.

The government will spend 480 million yuan ($70.34 million) on the "Peace Airport" in Tibet's second largest city, Shigatse, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Construction would take two years and the airport would be able to handle 230,000 passengers a year, it added.

"The civil airport will be an air corridor linking Shigatse with the outside world and inject new vigour into local social and economic development," Xinhua quoted government official Xu Xueguang as saying.

Shigatse, the traditional seat of the Buddhist Panchen Lama, is also being linked by rail to Lhasa, from where trains head out to the rest of China.

Beijing says that the new airports, roads and railway to Tibet will promote development and help raise living standards, while Tibet activists say it will speed up the pace of Chinese migration there and dilute Tibetan Buddhist culture.

Tibet was rocked last year year by anti-Chinese protests, driving down tourist numbers as the violence kept people away and the government tightened controls on who could enter the region.

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