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June 3 (Bloomberg) — China restricted access to overseas Web sites and blocked television broadcasts as the government tightened security a day before the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Twitter Inc.’s social-networking service and Microsoft Corp.’s Bing.com search engine were among Internet sites that were inaccessible. CNN broadcasts went blank in Beijing and Shanghai during a segment on the crushing of the pro-democracy protests on June 4, 1989.
The heightened media controls came as the government stationed more police in Tiananmen Square and groups around the world prepared to commemorate the anniversary. The Communist Party, which controls all domestic media, bars public discussion of the 1989 demonstrations.
“It’s a stability issue,” said Bo Zhiyue, senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s East Asian Institute who studies Chinese politics. “They don’t want to have any disturbance at this critical moment.”
Twitter, Flickr, Opera, Live, Wordpress and Blogger are among Web sites that have been blocked since yesterday, according to Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based media rights group. Web sites of the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily newspaper and Yahoo! Hong Kong News were also inaccessible.
Liu Zhengrong, the State Council Information Office Internet Affairs Bureau’s deputy director general, didn’t answer calls to his office today. The Chinese government bureau hasn’t responded to a faxed request for comment on Internet censorship sent two days ago.
“The Chinese government stops at nothing to silence what happened 20 years ago in Tiananmen Square,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement yesterday. Authorities “have opted for censorship at any price rather than accept a debate about this event,” it said.
Twitter has “no information” on its Web site’s inaccessibility, Jenna Sampson, a spokeswoman for the company, said in an e-mailed statement. Microsoft is “reaching out to the government” to find out why some of its services have been blocked for customers in China, Kevin Kutz, director of public affairs, said in an e-mail.
Microsoft’s Hotmail e-mail service, which the company said yesterday was being blocked in China, was accessible today in Beijing and Shanghai.
The Communist Party blocks access to Web sites criticizing it or publishing articles deemed unfavorable. China’s 316 million Internet users, the world’s largest online population, have used code words on sites such as San Francisco-based Twitter to bypass the ban on public discussion of Tiananmen.
Social-networking sites are “where most of the concerns are in terms of people mobilizing or spreading information,” said Andrew Lih, author of The Wikipedia Revolution and a former Columbia University professor who’s based in Beijing.
Censorship has extended to overseas newspapers in China. In the past week, the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post have been blocked from distribution or had articles relating to 1989 removed.
Student demonstrators calling for government reform occupied Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing for five weeks in the spring of 1989. Between the eve of June 3 and the early hours of June 4 of that year, soldiers backed by tanks opened fire on civilians in and around the square.
Estimates of the number of deaths vary. Beijing’s mayor said in a 1989 report to the government that about 200 civilians died, while the U.S. Embassy in the city estimated that the death toll exceeded 1,000. Tiananmen Mothers, a Beijing-based group of family members of victims, has verified 195 deaths.
China’s government has defended the crackdown by pointing to the country’s record of economic development since 1989. The economy expanded 17-fold by 2008 to become the world’s third largest.
In Tiananmen Square today, visitors had to pass through an X-ray machine and bags were searched. Video cameras were barred and visitors taking photographs were asked for their identity.
Messages circulated on Twitter in recent weeks asking Internet users in China to turn their Web logs gray to commemorate the crackdown, referring to it as “May 35th,” “535” or “VIIV” — Roman numerals signifying June 4.
Users in China have been cut off from Google Inc.’s YouTube.com video-sharing site since March, coinciding with the circulation of a video that allegedly showed Chinese police beating bound and handcuffed Tibetans. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Chinese rule in Tibet and the 60th since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
“We do not have any official communication about the block, so we have no information on its cause nor who is responsible,” Scott Rubin, a Google spokesman, said in an e-mail. “We have been working to restore the service to our users since then.”
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