updated 7/28/2009 1:43:26 PM ET 2009-07-28T17:43:26

Limited phone messaging and Internet access are now available in China's Xinjiang region, more than three weeks after the government cut services in the wake of deadly ethnic riots, officials said Tuesday.

Yang Guoqing, with the provincial government news center, said the government is now sending SMS (short message service) text messages to citizens, though they still cannot message each other.

"Every afternoon our news center will send text messages to citizens about the latest situation, and ask them not to believe in rumors," he said. "We're gradually restoring the service, but there's no exact time for the full restoration. The government is still discussing."

Mobile phone users got their first government text message on Sunday, the official China Daily reported. Internet access to a few select government and business-related Web sites is also available now, but most are still being blocked, the paper reported.

Xinjiang had also restored access for specialized operations like Internet banking services, online stock exchange and university enrollment services, it said.

Services were suspended in the wake of July 5 riots in the provincial capital of Urumqi as the government attempted to prevent the violence from spreading. Xinjiang Governor Nur Bekri accused protesters of using the Internet and SMS in mobilizing rioters.

Tensions between minority Uighurs and majority Han Chinese exploded into the country's worst unrest in decades, with 197 people dead and more than 1,700 wounded. Most of the dead were Han Chinese, though Uighurs say they believe many more of their community were killed in the ensuing government crackdown.

A group of Uighurs gathered in Urumqi to protest the deaths of two Uighurs at a factory in southern China. Violence erupted after police intervened with mobs of Uighurs rampaging through the streets, burning cars and attacking mostly Han Chinese.

In subsequent days, huge groups of angry Han men, wielding homemade weapons, took to the streets seeking revenge.

The Chinese government has repeatedly said the riots were orchestrated by separatists working inside and outside the country, though there has been little evidence to back that up.

Since then, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter as well as similar Chinese sites have also been blocked nationwide.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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