China reconnects Xinjiang region to the Web – very slightly

Almost six months after China cut off communications in a bid to control race riots in restive Xinjiang Province, it has given residents access to two party-controlled websites. But phone calls and text messages remain restricted.

Nearly six months after sinking into a communications blackout ordered by Beijing to control deadly race riots, residents of China's western reaches on Tuesday once again got a glimpse of two Communist party-controlled news websites – but little else.

The government information office of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region opened access to the websites of China's official Xinhua News Agency and the Communist Party's leading newspaper, The People's Daily, according a report in The China Daily, another official publication.

The e-mail and comment functions of both websites remain restricted, and the state-enforced moratorium on international phone calls and mobile text messages into or out of Xinjiang remains firmly in place.

All these services were cut off after Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, became the site of a July 5 riot that official tolls show left 197 dead and more than 1,700 injured – most of them ethnic Han Chinese killed by Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighurs. The vast western province, which is three times the size of France and borders eight countries, is home to 21 million people.

Yang Maofa, director of the Xinjiang telecommunications administration, said digital communication was yanked because it was "used by ringleaders to instigate the riots in Urumqi."

Internet service was partly restored in August at regional banks, which were allowed to access strictly monitored official Web portals, e-mail services, and government websites. Individual Xinjiang residents remained cut off, and are reported to have taken to traveling Internet cafes in neighboring Gansu Province.

Authorities are planning to allow Xinjiang e-mail access and to lift other communications restrictions, but have not given a timeframe.

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