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Sunday, June 6, 1999 Published at 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Malaysia takes on websites

Malaysians turning to the Internet for news

Malaysia is looking into mounting a legal offensive against Internet websites critical of the government.

A senior government official said the sites may have been funded by foreign "elements" to tarnish the country.

Websites supporting jailed former minister Anwar Ibrahim have mushroomed since his sacking in September sparked an unprecedented political crisis.

"I don't rule out the possibility that the websites are being funded by foreign elements, perhaps using students to do the work," Ibrahim Ali, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, was quoted as saying in Malaysian newspapers.

Censorship threat

Mr Ibrahim heads an official legal team set up earlier this year to look into the explosion of websites hostile to the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

He said the team had detected websites as far away as the United States and was now studying possible legal action against originators of the sites.

Mr Ibrahim said his committee had downloaded more than 3,000 pages from the Internet over the past two months.

Prime Minister Mahathir, who often blames foreigners for the country's problems, has threatened to censor the Internet to keep Malaysians from accessing pornographic and other morally unsound websites

Code of ethics

Officials have revealed that the government is drawing up a code of ethics for Internet users that it plans to have in place by the end of the year.

"Surprisingly, many are still ignorant or lack understanding on this matter (ethics) and the most common abuse by many Internet users is to disseminate malicious lies and rumours to the public," the Deputy Energy, Communications and Multimedia Minister Chan Kong Choy was quoted as saying in the Malaysian press.

About 500,000 out of Malaysia's 22m people use the Internet and the number is expected to double to one million by the end of 2000.

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