Beijing closes all Internet cafes after fire kills 24


BEIJING, AFP

Beijing authorities on Sunday decided to close all Internet cafes in the city after a fire raged through a cyber cafe killing 24, state media said.

Only establishments found not to violate regulations will be allowed to reopen, the Xinhua news agency reported.

That could mean a sharp reduction in the number of Internet cafes in the city, as Xinhua said 2,200 out of 2,400 Beijing-based cyber cafes have been operating illegally.

The decision was made after 24 were killed and 13 others injured in a cyber cafe fire in a university district in the northern part of the city early Sunday, Xinhua said.

However, Chinese authorities have long been targeting the Internet, which has ballooned in the past few years, possibly leading to the freest flow of information ever enjoyed by Chinese on the mainland.

Last month, mainland China announced new regulations to limit teenagers’ access to the Internet at web cafes to school holidays only, and for no more than three hours at a time.

The regulations said minors between the ages of 16 and 18 could enter Internet cafes only between 8 am and 8 p.m. during school breaks, while web surfers under 16 years of age were banned from Internet cafes entirely.

Mainland China had 33.7 million Internet users at the end of 2001, an increase of 49.8 percent from the year before, according to the most recently published statistics.