598 Web sites closed in crackdown on online smut in China

Chinese police have closed 598 Web sites in a crackdown on pornography, but online gambling and fraud are growing, state media said Friday. The communist government encourages Internet use for education and business but has launched repeated campaigns to stamp out material deemed obscene or subversive.

The latest crackdown, launched in March, led to 25 arrests, the China Daily Newspaper said, citing figures announced Thursday by the Ministry of Public Security. That figure was low compared with more than 500 people arrested in a nationwide crackdown last year.

"Online obscene video chats, gambling and frauds have become serious crimes in recent years and are still rising," the Xinhua News Agency cited Wu Heping, a ministry spokesman, as saying.

One business targeted in the latest crackdown was "online X-rated chat-rooms that offer nude shows through Web-cams" for a fee, the China Daily said.

The police ministry handled 14,000 cases of Internet-related crime over the past year, the newspaper said, citing Zhao Shiyuan, director of the ministry's Web security department.

Police received more than 12,000 tips from the public, Zhao said. China has the world's second-largest population of Internet users after the United States, with more than 100 million people online, reports the AP. I.L.

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