China's Web surfers have complained of problems opening Google Inc.'s main search engine Web site in the latest bout of Internet access problems afflicting foreign Internet sites.
Internet search giant Google drew fire in January after it announced it would voluntarily block politically sensitive terms on its Chinese site, Google.com.cn -- bowing to Beijing's demands in exchange for access to the world's number-two Internet market.
But Web site Google.com had until recently been freely available and uncensored to Web surfers in China.
Problems, however, have been reported across the country with complaints ranging from intermittent access failure to sustained blockage.
"I haven't been able to access Google's Web page for over a week," said Ma Le, 23, a researcher for a Beijing-based media company. "It's very inconvenient as I regularly use it for work."
Students in Wuhan, the capital of the central Chinese province of Hubei, also reported trouble accessing Google.
"My friends and I feel very angry about it," said an information technology student who declined to be named.
"Google stopped functioning for about a month, and it seems to be a common problem ... The government always tries to control the Internet, so that might be the main reason for it."
Google said on Tuesday it had received notice of the access difficulties and was investigating the cause.
"We are currently looking into these reports but as yet don't know why these access problems are occurring," said Cui Jin, a Google official."
Google is just one of the Web sites recently affected by access problems. Internet users have reported problems accessing email accounts and online chat servers linked to servers overseas including Google's Gmail and MSN Hotmail accounts.
"In the last two and a half weeks, the level of international email traffic between China and overseas has declined sharply," said Peter Humphrey, who runs a security firm in China.
"It's not just the little guys who can't afford expensive technology and communication lines, it's also affecting big businesses as well ... People are starting to wonder how they can do business in China so long as this goes on."
Free information activists Reporters Without Borders on Tuesday issued a statement condemning "the unprecedented level of Internet filtering in China" and linked access problems to the passing of the 17th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 4.
Others have speculated that the government has tightened Internet access ahead of a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security forum for Central Asia, which starts on June 15.
An official from the Ministry of Information Industry -- China's Internet regulator -- admitted she had also had trouble accessing Google, but declined to comment further.
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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