Page last updated at 10:27 GMT, Friday, 1 August 2008 11:27 UK

China lifts more internet curbs

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

A journalist works in Beijing's Main Press Centre on 31 July 2008
The internet row has overshadowed the countdown to the Games

China appears to have unblocked more banned websites in some cities after complaints from journalists covering the Olympic Games.

The move follows talks between Chinese organisers and officials from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Games officials will be hoping this defuses a row about internet access for those reporting on the sporting event.

Separately on Friday, Chinese President Hu Jintao said efforts to politicise the Olympic Games would not work.

"It is only inevitable that people from different countries and regions may not see eye to eye with one another on some different issues," he said.

Dialogue would help narrow differences and expand common ground, said the president.

'Reporters welcome'

The Internet dispute began when journalists started arriving in Beijing to cover the Games, which begin on 8 August.

Many believed the IOC and the Beijing organising committee (Bocog) had promised them unfettered internet access.

But they found some sites - including news websites and those of human rights groups - were blocked at Olympic media centres.

China President Hu Jintao speaks to journalists on 1 August 2008
President Hu Jintao said foreign reporters were welcome in China

The IOC promised to take up the matter with Bocog and said it expected the Chinese organisers to "keep their promise".

"The IOC has always encouraged the Beijing 2008 organisers to provide media with the fullest access possible to report on the Olympic Games, including access to the Internet," an IOC statement said.

A meeting between officials from the IOC and Bocog to discuss the issue took place on Thursday.

On Friday, journalists in Beijing could see a number of websites that were unobtainable earlier in the week, including Amnesty International's website.

Previously unavailable sites were also visible in Shanghai, Chengdu and Tianjin, the BBC confirmed.

A spokesperson for the IOC told the BBC that the issue had now been resolved. "The media are now able to access sites to do their job," the official said.

I'm really not sure why journalists are getting so upset about blocked access. How will it impact their reporting of a sports event?
Ben, Shanghai

The BBC's Chinese-language website appeared to be unblocked on Thursday. Other Chinese-language websites, such as Voice of America and Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, also now appear accessible.

But restrictions remain. The website of the Falun Gong, a spiritual movement banned in China, is still blocked.

Roseann Rife, deputy director for Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Programme, welcomed the move.

"However, arbitrary blocking and unblocking of certain sites does not fulfil the duty to comply with international standards of freedom of information and expression," she added.

It also seems that a number of websites have become accessible not only to journalists. Ordinary internet users in both Beijing and Shanghai could access previously unobtainable sites, although access was sometimes patchy.

In a rare interview with foreign reporters on Friday, Chinese President Hu Jintao said his country welcomed foreign reporters to cover the Games.

But he warned them to abide by China's laws and regulations.

"We also hope you will provide objective and impartial coverage of what you see here so that your report can enhance the communication and understanding between Chinese people and people from other parts of the world," the Chinese leader said.


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