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China bars outsiders from university Web site

Associated Press

BEIJING – Shuimu.com is just one of China’s thousands of Internet chat rooms. But when non-students were barred this month from using the site at Tsinghua University in Beijing, it triggered a rare burst of outrage.

A brief protest erupted at the school. Users posted appeals on other sites for Web surfers to speak up, with some comparing the crackdown to persecution in Nazi Germany.

Until a few days ago, Shuimu was the largest university forum in China. For 10 years, students, alumni and others used it for lively debates on everything from physics to politics.

On March 16, communist authorities closed the site to users outside the university campus, apparently aiming to prevent critics from posting anti-government comments online. The edict was said to come from the Ministry of Education, which did not respond to a fax from the Associated Press seeking confirmation.

Several other top universities also posted notices on their bulletin boards this month saying users had to register. Outsider postings were banned.

China has the world’s second-largest online population – 87 million – after the United States. The government encourages Web use for business and education, but tries to bar access to material deemed subversive or pornographic. Such efforts rarely cause a stir.

On March 18, two days after the notice went up, students held a rare protest on Tsinghua’s campus.

They laid out flowers and origami cranes and wrote “peace” and “free” on the ground with scraps of paper, according to pictures posted on the San Francisco-based Web site Webshots .com. One photo showed a banner that read “Bless and protect Shuimu.”

“This country is closing itself, it’s suiciding,” said a caption on one of the photos.

Complaints popped up on other chat rooms and personal Web log sites, or blogs. “I feel our channels of communication are already controlled by an invisible hand and our free breathing space is becoming smaller and smaller,” said one posting, signed Zola.

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