BEIJING (AP) -- China has blocked access to popular U.S. Internet search engine Google amid government calls to tighten media controls ahead of a major Communist Party congress.
Attempts to look at the site through Chinese Internet services on Tuesday were rejected with a notice saying it couldn't be found. Users and technical consultants who monitor the Chinese Internet said the site has been blocked for several days.
There was no immediate explanation for the blocking and representatives for Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., were not immediately available for comment.
The government is preparing to hold a congress in November that is expected to begin shifting power to a new generation of leaders. China routinely tightens controls on news and information around politically sensitive dates, and state media quoted President Jiang Zemin in August as telling propaganda officials to create a "sound atmosphere" for the meeting.
Google is hugely popular among China's 45 million Internet users because of its wide-ranging search capacity. A search in English for Jiang's name turns up links to 156,000 Web sites mentioning him.
By contrast, a search on Sina.com, another portal that is popular in China, turns up just 1,600 mentions of Jiang. The Chinese-language service of American search engine Yahoo turns up just 24 results.
Nor does Google weed out material that the Chinese government blocks as subversive.
A search for Jiang on Google turns up a Web page posted by the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement entitled "Exposing the crimes of Jiang Zemin." The group accuses Jiang of killing its followers in the course of a crackdown aimed at eliminating the group, viewed as a threat to communist control.
China promotes the Internet for economic use and to spread the communist government's views. But it has worked hard to muzzle the Internet as a forum for free information and discussion.
Authorities apply blocks to prevent Internet users from viewing sites run by Falun Gong, human rights groups and some foreign news organizations. Police monitor chat rooms and personal e-mail and erase online content considered undesirable. Internet portals have been warned they will be held responsible for sites they host.
Nevertheless, many users find ways to get around the blocks, said Duncan Clark, a technology analyst for consulting firm BDA China.
They often involve using "proxy servers" -- Web sites abroad that let users reach blocked sites. Such techniques are routinely posted online in China or exchanged in chat rooms.
"The restrictions only make people more creative," Clark said.
Copyright 2002. Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.