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Chinese netizens angry at Wen interview blackout

BEIJING, Friday 8 October 2010 (AFP) - Chinese web users are complaining about an apparent news blackout over a rare foreign interview given by Premier Wen Jiabao, in which he spoke about political reform and freedom of speech.

In the wide-ranging CNN interview with journalist Fareed Zakaria, Wen touched on a variety of topics often seen as taboo, while insisting that the ruling Communists in Beijing were adapting.

So far, China's tightly controlled state media have only published a commentary on Wen's interview, analysing Zakaria's interview style without once quoting the premier.

But Wen's words are not hard to find on the Chinese Internet, popping up on various homegrown Twitter-like microblogging services and sparking an outburst of posts.

"Grandpa Wen made a shocking speech about reform on CNN, but it was blocked by the country's main media outlets! Grandpa Wen, you are not fighting alone," a user named Shuyu wrote on sina.com's popular microblogging service.

"We are with you heart to heart."

Another user nicknamed Garuda wrote: "The people could not even listen to the words of their premier. Even he himself does not have freedom of speech."

In the interview aired Sunday, Wen acknowledged the difficulties of balancing the desires of China's 1.3 billion people with the need to maintain order across the vast, ethnically diverse country.

"I believe freedom of speech is indispensable for any country, a country in the course of development and a country that has become strong," Wen, who is a popular father figure in China, told CNN.

"I believe, I and all the Chinese people have such a conviction, that China will make continuous progress and the people's wishes for and needs for democracy and freedom are irresistible," he said.

"I hope that you will be able to gradually see the continuous progress of China."

China now has at least 420 million people online, giving it the world's largest web population -- a fact that Wen trumpeted during the interview.

But some web pages that carried excerpts of the interview have since been blocked. China's vast army of government censors removes any web content deemed sensitive or politically threatening.

Wen repeated to Zakaria the government line that any opening up of people's rights "must be conducted within the range allowed by the constitution and the laws".

"I often say that we should not only let people have the freedom of speech. We, more importantly, must create conditions to let them criticize the work of the government," Wen said.

"And it is only when there is the supervision and critical oversight from the people that the government will be in a position to do an even better job."

Garuda, the Sina user, wrote: "Wen's interview with CNN is like the sale of domestic commodities only for export."

On the social networking site www.my1510.cn, a user named "colourful bear" agreed, writing: "It would not be published if he had said it at home."

MySinchew 2010.10.08

 

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