BEIJING (Reuters) - China restored full Internet access in its far western Xinjiang region on Friday, the local government said, ending 10 months of blocked or limited access following deadly ethnic rioting there last July.
The curbs had been widely criticised by Western human rights advocates. Besides restricting communication, the curbs had also hurt commerce in the region, home to about 20 million people, mainly Uighurs -- a Muslim people native to Xinjiang and culturally tied to Central Asia and Turkey.
The local government said it restored services "to meet the needs of maintaining stability, boosting social and economic development and the calls from all ethnic groups", according to an announcement on its website (www.xinjiang.gov.cn).
Xinjiang cut off local access to the Internet, international phone calls and text messaging after members of China's Han majority ethnic group launched revenge attacks for riots by Muslim Uighurs in the regional capital, Urumqi. In all, 197 people, mostly Hans, died in the clashes.
"Since the situation in the region has stabilised, and Xinjiang is in a big construction, open and development stage, we need web users to contribute their wisdom," the announcement said.
Earlier this month, Zhang Chunxian was named Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang -- a position outranking the provincial governor -- replacing the hardline Wang Lequan, who had run the remote region since 1994.
Xinjiang has about 7 million Internet users, state media said.
But the announcement also threatened severe punishment for anyone caught spreading harmful information via the Internet.
"The web users should not do anything that hurts the Internet environment or harms ethnic unity, social stability and national interests," it added.
Last December, Xinjiang allowed access to two state-run websites, and in March allowed access to two portal websites. International long-distance calls and mobile text messages also have gradually resumed.
(Reporting by Huang Yan and Ken Wills; Editing by Benjamin Kang Lim)