China arrests over coup rumours

Courtesy of BBC China

Paramilitary policemen patrol on Tiananmen Square - archive image The internet rumours have spooked China’s top leadership

Chinese police have arrested six people and shut 16 websites after rumours were spread that military vehicles were on the streets of Beijing, officials say.

The web posts were picked up last week by media outlets around the world, amid uncertainty caused by the ouster of top political leader Bo Xilai.

The State Internet Information Office (SIIO) said the rumours had a “very bad influence on the public”.

Two popular microblogs have temporarily stopped users from posting comments.

The two sites, Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo, are still letting people post to their own sites. But they said commenting on other people’s posts would be disabled between 31 March and 3 April, so they “could act to stop the spread of rumours”.

A spokesman for the SIIO told state news agency Xinhua earlier that the two websites had been “criticised and punished accordingly”.

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image of Michael Bristow Michael Bristow BBC News, Beijing

There has been no evidence to substantiate the coup allegations but the authorities considered them damaging enough to take this extreme action.

Internet forums, microblogging sites, are perhaps the only area in which people could freely express their views, and many have done so anonymously.

In a country where there is very little information from the authorities, rumours take on an added value in a way they perhaps would not in other countries.

I think this just shows you the Chinese authorities will move to close down any kind of public debate if they can.

He added that that a number of other people had been “admonished or educated”.

Chongqing case

China’s top leaders are grappling with the biggest political crisis they have faced for years, the BBC’s Michael Bristow reports from Beijing.

The country will begin a once-in-a-decade leadership change later this year. But one of the main contenders for promotion – Bo Xilai – has just been sacked, suggesting a fierce fight behind the scenes for control of the ruling Communist Party.

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