BEIJING (AP) -- China has threatened the operators of unlicensed Internet bars with criminal prosecution as part of a safety crackdown launched after a fire at an Internet cafe in Beijing killed 25 customers, state media reported Saturday.

From July 1 to August 31, unlicensed cyber cafes will be shut down and the owners prosecuted, Xinhua News Agency quoting Ministry of Culture official Liu Yuzhu as saying. No new Internet bars will be allowed to open during that period, the report added.

Legal cafes have to reregister by Oct. 1, Liu said, and will have to pass safety inspections. According to the Ministry of Culture, only 46,000 of China's 200,000 Internet cafes are registered.

Cyber cafes across the country were ordered closed for safety inspections after a June 16 fire at an illegal Internet bar in Beijing killed 25 customers and injured 12. The closures coincided with a nationwide crackdown in which thousands of cafes have been shut over the past year for failing to install software to track the sites visited by users.

China's communist government tightly controls content on the Internet, blocking sites considered subversive or obscene.

Copyright 2002. Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.