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US Diplomat to Travel to Lhasa on Chinese-Led Trip

The United States says China has invited it to send a diplomat on a Chinese-led trip to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, the site of anti-China protests over the past several weeks.

A U.S. State Department spokesman told reporters Thursday that an officer from the embassy in Beijing will travel to Lhasa Friday and Saturday. He said Washington sees this as a step in the right direction, but added the U.S. will continue to press for unfettered access to other parts of Tibet.

Earlier Thursday in Lhasa, about 30 Tibetan monks disrupted a government-led tour for foreign journalists at Jokang Temple. The monks said they have been locked inside the temple and not allowed to leave. They denied they were involved in recent protests and denied China's accusations that Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was behind the unrest.

The Chinese foreign ministry has said it cannot confirm whether the monks were locked in their monasteries.

Peaceful demonstrations in Lhasa began March 10th on the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Tibetan exile groups say the situation worsened and turned violent after Chinese police used force to stop the rallies.

Foreign journalists say the police presence in Tibet is heavy and that the smell of burning buildings still hangs in the air. Journalists were allowed only a limited glimpse of Lhasa, but say they did get to see some of the shops that were burned during the protests.

Tibetan exile groups say at least 140 people have been killed in the unrest that has spread from the capital to other Tibetan regions in China. Beijing authorities say 20 civilians were killed.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.