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Firms, users call for India to restore Web access

/ Source: The Associated Press

Angry Internet users and India’s main software trade group pressured the government Wednesday to reopen access to Web sites blocked following the Mumbai train bombings in an effort to stop extremists from stirring up religious violence.

Investigators, meanwhile, questioned 11 Muslim preachers in northeast India but announced no breakthroughs in the search for those behind the July 11 blasts, which killed 207 people and injured more than 800.

Suspicion has surrounded Islamic militants fighting India rule in the disputed territory of Kashmir, and the Web sites were apparently blocked to prevent any outbreak of Hindu-Muslim violence.

But in its efforts to shut down extremists blogs, the government ended up blocking all access to several Web sites, including the popular, technology experts said.

“The Indian Internet service providers don’t have the technological wherewithal to block specific blogs on a blogging site. Consequently, they ended up blocking the entire site,” said technology expert Pawan Duggal.

Gulshan Rai, director of the state-run Computer Emergency Response Team of the Information Technology Ministry, said the government order targeted four blogs hosted on blogspot.

“There’s no attempt to block from our side,” the Hindustan Times quoted him as saying.

On Wednesday morning it was still difficult to access blogs on that Web site from India.

Kiran Karnick, president of The National Association of Software and Services Companies, the country’s main information technology trade group, said his organization would take up the matter with the government.

“It is neither desirable nor possible to impose censorship on the Net,” Karnick said.

Angry Indian Internet users exchanged e-mails and flooded message boards with postings to report that blogs could not be opened.

Experts said the government’s order was inefficient because users could still access many blogs through third-party Web sites that the government had not blocked.

“It shows that our bureaucrats don’t understand technology at all,” said Sarabjit Roy, a cyber law expert.

Investigators, meanwhile, questioned 11 Islamic preachers who have spent the past three weeks delivering sermons in remote villages along India’s porous border with Bangladesh. Authorities fear Muslim militants might be smuggling weapons and munitions over that border into India.

“It is too premature to say anything concrete at this moment,” Bombay police R. Tonti officer told reporters in Agartala, the capital of northeastern Tripura state.

On Tuesday, sirens wailed in Bombay as trains, cars and pedestrians halted during the evening rush hour to mark the moment of the blasts a week earlier.

For about two minutes beginning at 6:24 p.m. — the time the first of seven explosions ripped through the city’s commuter rail lines — trains did not run and cars froze at intersections. Crowds stood silent on sidewalks.