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China widens technical access in Xinjiang

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Texting access follows widening of Internet access; e-mail restricted, however
  • Some Xinjiang residents travel to neighboring Gansu province to surf Web
RELATED TOPICS
  • Xinjiang
  • China
  • Internet

Beijing, China (CNN) -- China has further expanded technical access -- allowing text-messaging services to resume -- in its western Xinjiang autonomous region after cutting service because of deadly rioting over the summer, state-run media reported.

Text services were gradually restored beginning Sunday, the Xinhua news agency said, citing an official with the information office of the regional government.

In August, authorities began allowing Xinjiang residents limited access to regional government, banking, entertainment and gaming Web sites. And in December, they started allowing access to a state-run news service and the online newspaper of the nation's Communist Party, according to the China Daily newspaper. Both sites carry domestic and international news. In January, that access was widened to two other Chinese Web sites -- a media site and a search engine, according to Xinhua.

In December, officials also said they planned to allow some e-mail service, but gave no timeframe.

Under the restrictions, some Xinjiang residents have traveled to neighboring Gansu province to more fully surf the Web, China Daily reported.

The July riots were sparked by long-simmering resentment between minority Uyghurs and majority Han Chinese. The Uyghurs are mostly Muslims in Xinjiang. Some Islamists refer to the region as East Turkistan.

"To prevent further unrest, the government blocked access to the Web and suspended international calls and short message services in the region 24 hours after the July 5 riot, because they were vital tools used by ringleaders to instigate the riots in Urumqi," Yang Maofa, director of the regional telecommunications administration, said in December, according to China Daily. Urumqi is the capital of Xinjiang.

Dozens of people have been tried for their alleged roles in the summer's clashes. More than 20 people have received death sentences. About 200 people were killed in the riots, according to state media. The unrest continued in August, when Uyghurs were accused of attacking Han Chinese with syringes filled with various substances.

In September, China sent 7,000 security personnel to Urumqi to ease tensions after Han Chinese protested the syringe attacks. China's constitution guarantees ethnic minorities equal rights. However, ethnic tensions run deep, and minority groups such as the Uyghurs say the Han discriminate.