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 Friday, 27 December, 2002, 05:00 GMT
China gets tough on cyber cafes
Sign to internet bar in China
China has already heavily restricted internet usage
China has closed more than 3,000 internet cafes, in what the government says is part of a national workplace safety campaign.

Burnt out internet cafe
Following the fire strict laws were imposed on internet cafes
The official Chinese news agency said the closures were a safety measure prompted by the deaths in June of 25 people in a fire at an internet cafe in Beijing.

The report says nearly 12,000 other internet cafes have been closed until safety improvements are put in place.

But critics have accused the Chinese Government of using the safety issue as an excuse to impose tighter controls on the licensing of internet cafes.

Safety concerns

China's minister for the State Economic and Trade Commission, Li Rongrong, said that more than 45,000 internet cafes had been inspected in the country in the past six months, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Many of China's internet cafes are unlicensed and have no fire exits.

Officials also complain about access to pornography and other online material deemed harmful.

The fire, at the Lanjisu (Blue Hyperspeed) Beijing's university district, was the city's worst in more than 50 years.

Many of the victims were unable to escape because its doors were locked and iron bars covered many of the windows.

Two young boys were sentenced to life in prison in August for deliberately starting the fire after being refused entry.

Usage restricted

Although ostensibly the crackdown is to improve worker safety, BBC correspondent Holly Williams says that China is keen to crack down on web usage, especially internet chatrooms where anti-government opinions may be expressed.

Under strict new laws introduced in November this year, children under the age of 16 were banned in internet cafes, managers must keep lists of all those using their facilities, and doors and windows must not be locked.

Gambling, violence and pornography cannot be promoted on the internet.

China has already heavily restricted internet usage in the country, with a recent US study finding that up to one in 10 websites were deliberately blocked to Chinese internet users.

Despite such restrictions the internet is hugely popular in China, with more than 45 million internet users as of mid-2002, compared to just half a million in October 1997.

However, as home computers become cheaper many, Chinese are now using internet cafes to play computer games rather than to access websites.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Holly Williams in Beijing
"Authorities have inspected 45,000 cafes over the last 6 months"
See also:

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