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China bars new Internet cafes amid concern that online material harming young people

BEIJING (AP) – China will license no new Internet cafes this year while regulators carry out an industry-wide inspection, the government says, amid official concern that online material is harming young people.

Investigators will look into whether Internet cafes are improperly renting out their licenses or failing to register their customers’ identities, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce said on its Web site.

”Industry and commerce bureaus at all levels must not license any new Internet cafes in 2007,” said the notice, dated May 30.

The communist government encourages Web use for business and education, but authorities are worried it gives children access to violent games, sexually explicit material and gambling Web sites.

President Hu Jintao has ordered Chinese authorities to clean up ”Internet culture,” and the government launched a crackdown in April on online pornography.

China has the world’s second-largest population of Internet users, with 137 million people online, and is on track to surpass the United States as the largest online population in two years.

The government tries to block access to online material deemed obscene or subversive.

Internet cafes are hugely popular with customers who spend hours playing online games that link multiple competitors.

Last week, a Shanghai court ordered operators of an Internet cafe to pay $11,200 to the family of a 15-year-old boy who collapsed and died after playing online games for two straight days, the newspaper China Youth Daily reported. Internet cafes are supposed to limit the number of hours that minors are online.

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