URUMQI: Internet service in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region will be gradually restored following nearly six months of closure after the deadly July riot in the capital, the region's information office said yesterday.
Residents in Xinjiang yesterday started to have access to two websites: xinhuanet.com and people.com.cn.
Access to even the two websites is restricted. Users in Xinjiang cannot leave comments or access the forum section on the websites, nor can they use the email services provided by the websites.
The regional government decided to lift the ban on Internet service because the overall social situation in the region after the July 5 riot, which left 197 dead and more than 1,700 injured, has become stable and the decision was approved by the central government, according to the statement.
"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," said Yang Maofa, director of the regional telecommunications administration.
Yang said considering the public's demand for email service, the authorities are planning to allow people access to some popular email service providers.
Limited service was restored in August and Xinjiang residents can freely access more than 100 region-based Web portals, ranging from banks and local government departments to entertainment and online games.
To gain access to the Internet, some people even travel regularly to Dunhuang in Gansu province, which is the closest city to Urumqi.
Yang added that the authorities are preparing to soon lift restrictions on international calls and text messages, but didn't give a timeframe.
"We know the suspension of telecommunication services has caused great inconvenience to people, and we appreciate their understanding and support to the measures from the perspective of safeguarding social stability," said Yang.
While residents in Xinjiang are not over-enthusiastic about access to just the two websites, they said it is a good beginning.
"I rarely visited those sites before the Internet was down, I don't think I'll do so now," a 25-year-old Urumqi resident surnamed Chen told China Daily. "I cannot wait for the day the Internet service is fully restored. The good news is that at least we know there is hope now."
Memet Turson, a 35-year-old businessman based in Kashgar, said: "I am disappointed that I cannot use email, which I desperately need for my business.
"But I am glad to hear that the government is gradually lifting the ban; it is a good start."