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Iran denies barring teens from using Internet

TEHRAN, Iran -- The national telecommunications monopoly in Iran denied a news report that it had prohibited youths under 18 from using the Internet.

The article, published Sunday in the reformist newspaper Hambastegi, said that Iran Telecommunications Company had issued new regulations making Internet service providers block access to juveniles.

The state telecom denied the charge.

"This is a misunderstanding. There is no limit for under-18s to use the Internet. But the Internet Service Provider cannot authorize those under 18 to open cyber-cafes," it said in a statement faxed late Sunday to the Islamic Republic News Agency, the official media outlet of Iran.

The capital city of Tehran boasts more than 1,500 Internet cafes, with more in other large metropolitan areas. The businesses are favorite hangouts for the mostly young population of Iran, an Islamic republic where conservatives direct the state media.

Last month, authorities closed down more than 400 cyber-shops in Tehran, demanding owners obtain licenses to remain open.

"The move seemed to be for more control and supervision on the activities of Internet cafes, in order to purify materials that go awry of Islamic norms," the IRNA said on its Web site.

According to Hambastegi, the alleged new guidelines also required ISPs to restrict access to online information deemed immoral or threats to national security, including the Web sites of opposition groups.

"While the Iranians throughout the world are providing the youths with the Internet, Iran has launched an ineffective plan," Hambastegi quoted Shahryar Shahin, the managing-director of an Internet company as saying.

The IRNA said that the telecom had no authority to interpret new regulations.

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