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Defiant China firm on Internet censorship

BEIJING, July 31 – A defiant China stood firm on controversies swirling around the Olympics on Thursday, hitting back at the United States over human rights criticism and insisting Internet censorship would remain.

China’s communist rulers responded sternly to critics following a storm of bad publicity this week surrounding their decision to renege on a pledge of allowing unfettered Internet access to foreign reporters covering the Games.

The decision highlighted long-standing concerns over the Chinese government’s attitude towards human rights, and led the White House to intervene by saying China had "nothing to fear" from the Internet.

The Chinese foreign ministry reacted by criticising a meeting US President George W. Bush had with leading Chinese dissidents and describing some US lawmakers who spoke out on China’s human rights record as "odious".

"We express strong discontent and firm opposition to this," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said about Bush’s meeting on Tuesday with the dissidents.

"The US side has rudely interfered in China’s internal affairs and sent a seriously wrong message to hostile anti-China forces," he said in a statement on the ministry’s website.

Liu also hit out at a resolution by the US Congress that urged Beijing to improve on human rights and stop repression of ethnic minorities.

Liu said the resolution passed Wednesday was an attempt to politicise the Olympics and urged Washington to curb the "odious conduct" of anti-Chinese legislators.

Meanwhile, Olympic organisers said they would not back down on Internet censorship, saying banned sites were in breach of Chinese laws.

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"A small number of Internet sites are blocked, mainly because they violate Chinese law," Beijing Olympic organising committee spokesman Sun Weide said when asked whether curbs for the foreign press would be lifted.

"We hope that foreign media will respect Chinese law in this matter."

Sun identified sites linked to the Falungong spiritual movement, which is outlawed in China, as ones that would remain censored for the foreign press at Olympic venues.

He refused to identify any others but reporters trying to surf the Internet at the main press centre for the Games have found a wide array of sites deemed sensitive by China’s rulers to be out-of-bounds.

Sites that are blocked include those for human rights group Amnesty Internation, the Tibet government-in-exile, press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders and various Chinese dissident organisations.

Another irritant for Olympic organisers was the airing by a South Korean TV station of rehearsals for the top-secret Games opening ceremony.

"I think it is disappointing that someone comes in there and literally steals one of the most exciting moments of the Games," said Kevan Gosper, an IOC executive board member from Australia.

"This is a great surprise and I have not heard of this happening before."

The Beijing Olympic organising committee said that the filming was unauthorised and that it had launched an investigation.

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"We are disappointed and frustrated with the broadcast by SBS," committee spokesman Sun Weide said.

And after two days of marked improvement in the air, the Chinese capital was once again blighted by a thick haze, suggesting draconian measures to curb car use had not been enough.

The environment ministry on Thursday unveiled a string of potential last-ditch measures that would be enacted if air pollution reached unacceptable standards.

One million of the city’s 3.3 million cars have already been taken off the roads, and more than 100 heavily polluting factories and building sites closed down.

But the ministry said more cars would be taken off the roads and another 222 factories temporarily shut down, if necessary.

Measures restricting traffic would also be extended to the nearby city of Tianjin and major cities in neighbouring Hebei province, the ministry said.

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