China starts restoring Internet in divided Muslim region

China will start restoring Internet service in its western Xinjiang region after nearly six months of a near-total ban on Web access and international phone calls, state media said Tuesday.

The clampdown on communications, in which China also blocked Web sites including Facebook and Twitter nationwide, followed deadly ethnic riots in Xinjiang in July. Nearly 200 people died as Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority group native to the region, and members of the Han Chinese ethnic majority hunted each other in the streets.

Internet service ceased in the province, though authorities later opened a regional network that let users access certain local news portals and bank and government Web sites, according to the state-run China Daily. Text messaging on mobile phones and international call services were also blocked.

Authorities have started gradually restoring Internet access to the province this week, but the only new Web sites made available so far are two government news portals, run by the newspaper People's Daily and the official Xinhua news agency, Xinhua said, citing an announcement by the regional government. Text message and international call services will also be gradually restored, Xinhua said.

The clampdown helped stabilize the region but also caused some economic difficulty, the report cited the Xinjiang government as saying. Companies in sectors such as e-commerce had to find ways to work around the communications outage.

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