Fire breaks out at Tibetan Buddhist temple

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Beijing maintains tight control of news reports from Tibet, where Buddhist sites have been a focal point for separatist unrest in the past.

A fire damaged the sacred Jokhang Monastery in the Tibetan capital Lhasa Saturday, but as usual, official Chinese media were extremely reluctant in reporting the subject.

Reports say that Chinese authorities quickly tried to block footage and images of the fire appearing on social media.

Robert Barnett, a London-based expert on contemporary Tibet, told the Guardian that the fire wasn't reported by China's official news media for nearly four hours "even though you could see it from miles away across the whole city".

For nearly four hours after the fire began, it was not even acknowledged by China's heavily controlled media, "even though you could see it from miles away across the whole city", he said. "People are hugely concerned, rightly or wrongly, that the damage might be much more severe than the media is letting on". It houses a holy statue of the Buddha and other cultural treasures.

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Beijing has also made a great show of the amount of money it has spent to preserve and protect traditional Tibetan culture, including the many temples and monasteries that dot Tibet.

As images of the conflagration spread on Saturday.

"Tibetans consider Lhasa to be a sacred place, but Jokhang is a sacred place within that sacred place - the most sacred in all of Tibet", she said.

Barnett said China's bid to suppress news of the blaze would further hurt relations with Tibetans.

Foreign journalists are banned from visiting Tibet except on state-sponsored tours, as Beijing seeks to strictly control the narrative about the region, ranked the second-least free territory in the world after Syria by U.S. think tank Freedom House.

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