U.S. envoy allowed visit to isolated Tibet

On a rare trip to Tibet, the U.S. ambassador to China has met with residents and officials and urged authorities to allow foreigners to travel more freely in the tightly controlled region, the embassy said Thursday.

Gary Locke’s three-day trip in and around the region’s capital, Lhasa, with members of his family and embassy staff ends Friday. U.S. Embassy deputy spokesman Justin Higgins said it was the first time an embassy request to visit Tibet had been approved since September 2010.

The embassy said that in his meetings, Locke lobbied for opening access to Tibet and stressed the “importance of preserving the Tibetan people’s cultural heritage, including its unique linguistic, religious and cultural traditions.”

China restricts journalists’ access to Tibetan areas of western China and to Tibet itself, and foreign tourists must apply for special permits to visit Tibet.

More than 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2011 to protest Chinese policies in the region and call for the return of the Dalai Lama, their spiritual leader, from exile.

Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday that since 2006, the Chinese government has relocated more than 2 million Tibetans or placed them in government-built homes, often without consulting or adequately compensating them.

China’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the report, calling the rights group prejudiced against Beijing.

— Associated Press

Russia says civilians are now staffing base

The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed Thursday that all military personnel have been withdrawn from the Russian naval base at Tartus, Syria, but said they have been replaced by civilians.

“No one is talking about any evacuation from Tartus,” a report issued by the ministry said.

The base in the port city has been the Russian military’s sole outpost in the Middle East, and although it is not a major facility, it has had symbolic value as a sign of Russia’s support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-
Assad. Last week, a deputy foreign minister said in an interview with the al-Hayat newspaper that all military personnel had been withdrawn.

The base “has been staffed solely with Russian civilian personnel,” the Defense Ministry’s statement said. “It has been this way for a long time.”

The statement added: “Tartus remains an official Russian naval base in the Mediterranean and continues to fulfill its tasks in accordance with its purpose.”

— Will Englund

U.S. envoy accosted amid Kosovo vote on Serbia deal: Hard-line opposition supporters tried but failed to stop Kosovo lawmakers from approving a key deal with Serbia — with hundreds clashing with police outside parliament and some protesters attacking U.S. Ambassador Tracey Jacobson as she tried to enter. The agreement will see Serbia call off parallel security structures in the Serb-run north of Kosovo and encourage the area’s Serbs to work with the ethnic Albanian leadership in the Kosovar capital of Pristina in exchange for more ­self-governance. But it does not resolve the dispute over Kosovo’s 2008 secession from Serbia.

Turkey probes social media postings: Turkey’s deputy prime minister said authorities are investigating people who allegedly insulted state officials or incited riots through social media postings, a sign that the government is intent on meting out punishments for the anti-government protests that have swept Turkey. Bekir Bozdag also said the government will submit to Parliament a proposal to further curb the military’s powers, in an apparent effort to reaffirm its democratic credentials.

Afghan police, militants killed in ambushes: Taliban fighters ambushed a national police patrol in the western Afghan province of Herat, killing a commander and four of his men, while across the country in Ghazni province, police ambushed a group of Taliban fighters and killed five, authorities said. The Taliban has signaled that it is willing to have peace talks with the United States at a new office in Qatar, but at the same time has said it will continue fighting. Missoni plane found: The wreckage of a plane that disappeared in January with the CEO of Italy’s iconic Missoni fashion house and five others on board has been found in waters off Venezuela, identified by its tail number, officials and relatives said. In addition to the 58-year-old Vittorio Missoni, the aircraft was carrying his wife, Maurizia Castiglioni, two Italian friends and two Venezuelan crew members.

— From news services