BEIJING (AFP) – The controversial renovation of the historic area around a key monastery in the Tibetan capital has been completed, Chinese state media said.
The 1.5 billion-yuan ($240 million) project in downtown Lhasa around the Jokhang Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has raised concerns that commercialisation would harm old structures and local religious traditions.
The seven-month project to upgrade infrastructure and preserve buildings was "completed on Sunday", the Global times said, citing a Lhasa media official.
It covered an area of 1.3 square kilometres (0.51 square miles), it said.
More than 100 Tibet experts last month sent a petition to Chinese President Xi Jinping and UNESCO head Irina Bokova detailing the negative impact of the project.
"It has been and is destroying irreplaceable structures that in some cases have stood for centuries, creating what appears to be a contrived tourist village," they said.
The renovations had also forced Tibetans from their homes and impeded their religious practice, they added.
Lhasa propaganda chief Ma Xinming rejected such criticism, saying that the project adhered strictly to Tibetan culture, the Global Times reported.
The Chinese Academy of Urban Planning and Design took part in the effort "to ensure that the authenticity and traditional flavours in the area be preserved", it said.
China has worked to develop Tibet, which is relatively poor, in recent years, bringing an influx of investment and ethnic majority Han Chinese seeking work.
But the changes have caused friction with the local community, and overseas rights groups complain of religious and cultural oppression.
More than 100 Tibetans in and around the plateau region have set themselves on fire in recent years in apparent protest at Chinese rule.
A report by Human Rights Watch last month said more than two million Tibetans in China were forced to change homes or relocate from 2006 to 2012 in a government-sponsored programme.
China criticised the report, citing "huge development and progress on all fronts" in the region.