State-owned China Tibetan News, citing a city government news conference from Friday, said the project will update the Barkhor area's infrastructure, including water, sewer and electrical lines. The government also will build heating facilities, remove fire hazards, improve sanitation services, regulate signs and dismantle illegally built structures.
Believed to date back to the seventh century, the Barkhor has been built around Tibet's holiest shrine, the Jokhang Temple. It is one of the most vibrant areas in Lhasa, where monks, pilgrims, residents and tourists mingle. Barkhor Street - which circles the temple - is a pilgrim route, but it is also known for shopping among tourists as it is filled with vendors selling traditional and religious artifacts.
The city will provide free space to 2,956 Barkhor vendors at one of the city's prime locations to help minimize losses during the construction, China Tibetan News said.
The temple has been a symbolic center of ongoing Tibetan protests against authoritarian Chinese rule, and the Barkhor was a center of Tibetan unrest in 2008 that left at least a dozen people dead, just months before Beijing hosted the country's first summer Olympic Games.
In May, two Tibetan men set themselves on fire in front of the Jokhang Temple, according to the Washington-based rights group International Campaign for Tibet.
Since February 2009, more than 90 Tibetans - mostly outside Lhasa - have self-immolated to protest China's rule of the Himalayan region.
The official Xinhua News Agency said the government will preserve cultural relics in the area, including the Jokhang Temple.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)