BEIJING — China said Tuesday that its Internet remained "open" despite the apparent muffling of discussion on the protests in Egypt on some popular microblogs and major web portals.
But foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei did not explicitly deny that government censors were restricting the flow of information about the demonstrations against the 30-year rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
"China's Internet is open," Hong told reporters when asked if Beijing was censoring searches about the week of protests, which have left more than 100 people dead and Mubarak clinging to power.
Keyword searches on sina.com's Twitter-like microblog service, China's market leader with more than 50 million users, returned no results on the Egypt unrest on Tuesday.
Searches on some web portals returned an error message saying the topic was not allowed under "relevant laws, regulations and policies".
Reports by the official Xinhua news agency focused on an offer by newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman for talks with opposition parties, rather than the protests sweeping the country.
Beijing actively censors content seen as a potential challenge to the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party.
When asked if China had been in contact with Mubarak and supported growing international calls for a smooth transition of power, Hong said Beijing was monitoring the situation "closely".
"Egypt is a friend of China. We hope Egypt will restore social stability and normal order as soon as possible," he said, reiterating his remarks from previous days.
China's leaders have faced mounting public discontent in recent years over hot-button issues including persistent reports of abusive government officials, environmental damage and now surging inflation.
Beijing's reaction to the Egypt situation recalls similar curbs put in place during the so-called "colour revolutions" in eastern Europe a decade ago.
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