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YouTube confirms website blocked in China

(AFP) – Mar 25, 2009 

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) — YouTube confirmed on Tuesday its website is being blocked in China, although the California firm offered no explanation for why Chinese authorities were barring access to the popular video-sharing service.

"YouTube has been blocked in China since yesterday," company spokesman Scott Rubin said.

"We do not know the reason for the blockage, and we're working as quickly as possible to restore access to our users in China."

Chinese authorities have a history of blocking websites they deem politically unacceptable or offensive.

A spokesman for the Chinese consulate in San Francisco told AFP he didn't have any information about YouTube being blocked in China.

The YouTube blockage came as government officials there publicly challenged the authenticity of a video that purports to show police beating to death a pro-Tibet demonstrator last year.

China's official Xinhua News Agency quoted an unidentified government source saying supporters of the Dalai Lama were "fabricating lies" by doctoring video to "deceive the international community."

In March of last year YouTube access was barred temporarily in China after video clips appeared showing violent unrest in the Tibetan capital Lhasa that triggered a virtual lockdown of the city by security forces.

Footage of Chinese troops apparently beating Tibetans last year in and near Lhasa following the deadly riots has appeared on YouTube in recent days. The source, date and location of the footage, posted by a Tibetan exile group, could not be independently confirmed.

The video shows hundreds of uniformed Chinese soldiers running through a Tibetan monastery, some of them beating a man with batons.

In another scene, uniformed soldiers kick, drag and beat several men and women who are lying on the ground, some of them with their hands bound behind their backs.

The narrator of the video said the violence was part of China's crackdown following anti-Chinese unrest in the Tibetan capital March 14, 2008, which Beijing says led to the deaths of 21 people by rioters.

This March, China deployed a heavy security presence in Tibet and neighboring provinces to head off unrest ahead of two significant anniversaries.

In addition to the March 14 anniversary, March 10 marked the 50th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule that led to Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama fleeing the Himalayan region for India.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the blocking of YouTube in China. The Paris-based group devoted to press freedom branded China an "enemy of the Internet" in a report published this month.

Chinese routinely censors Internet searches and conversations with sophisticated controls that essentially make the country's Web "the largest prison in the world for cyber-dissidents," according to an RSF statement.

RSF praised Internet users in China that have been cleverly mocking censors with satirical videos, songs and tales based on a "grass-mud horse" character referred to as "Caonima." The alpaca-like character is a comic play on a Chinese epithet.

Government officials have reportedly been ordering websites and online chat rooms to erase the spoof character through methods such as eliminating "caonima" as an Internet search key word.

RSF said wordplay was used to slip past censors in "a collective thumbing of your nose" at China's propaganda machine.