BEIJING - US fast food giant KFC has opened its first restaurant in Tibet, the venue's property manager said Wednesday, more than a decade after the chain's first attempt to establish a foothold ended in controversy.
Pictures posted online showed long lines at the counters, and dozens of flower displays and a red carpet outside the premises, in a shopping mall in the regional capital Lhasa.
"As a diehard fan of KFC I waited in line for ages, and felt like crying when I took my first lick of my ice cream cone," said one social media user.
The opening comes despite campaign groups expressing alarm over the store's presence when it was announced in December, and the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader and Nobel laureate, previously declaring that the cruel treatment endured by chickens raised and killed for KFC violated Tibetan values.
China has ruled majority Buddhist Tibet since the 1950s, where rights groups accuse it of political and religious repression.
Beijing insists that Tibetans enjoy extensive freedoms and that it has brought economic growth to the region, and accuses the Dalai Lama of separatism.
The official Xinhua news agency said that more foreign brands were "hoping to do business in the region" as its infrastructure improved.
KFC entered China in 1987, and now has just over 5,000 outlets in more than 1,100 locations across the country, most of them company-owned, its parent Yum Brands says on its website.
It has said it intends to spin off its China operations into a separate company.
The Lhasa KFC opened Tuesday, a woman from the Shenli Shidai shopping centre property rental department confirmed to AFP.
Yum declined to comment to AFP Wednesday on the opening, but after plans for the restaurant were announced in December, a Yum representative said it would "provide employment opportunities, and support the development of the regional supply chain" and "incorporate local design elements".
Images of the interior posted online showed a large image of the Potala palace -- once the residence of the Dalai Lamas -- and triangle motifs labelled with Tibetan mountain names in English, among them Qomolangma, the local designation for Everest.