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India cracks down on internet over Assam

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India has put pressure on digital media outlets, including social networking site Facebook, and micro-blogging service Twitter, to remove "inflammatory" content it said helped spread rumours that sparked an exodus of migrants from some Indian cities last week.

In a statement on Tuesday, the government said it had already blocked access to 245 web pages it said contained doctored videos and images.

"A lot of inflammatory and harmful content [or] information has been found to be appearing on the social networking sites hosted outside the country," the government statement read.

"The government is for free information. There is no question of anything being censored here. But that does not mean there are not limitations," a senior official in the Ministry of Home Affairs said, adding that authorities were trying to identify those responsible for posting the inflammatory material.

Response 'poor'

R Chandrashekhar, telecommunications secretary, threatened legal action against the websites if they did not fully comply with the requests to take down the offending pages.

Chandrashekhar told CNN-IBN television that Google and Facebook had largely complied with the government's requests while the response from Twitter had been "extremely poor".

"We understand the gravity of the situation, strongly condemn acts of violence and continue to work closely with relevant authorities", Paroma Roy Chowdhury, Google spokeswoman, said in a statement.

"We have received requests from Indian authorities and agencies and are working through those requests and responding to the agencies," Facebook said in a statement released by their Indian representatives.

New Delhi had already warned the popular micro-blogging service that it could face legal action if it failed to identify their sources in the "inflammatory" messages.

Twitter was not immediately available for comment.

Thousands of students and workers from India's northeast fled Mumbai, Bangalore and other cities last week fearing
retaliation for violence against Muslims in the remote tea-growing state of Assam after threatening mobile phone text messages and website images sowed panic.

Clashes between indigenous Bodo people in Assam and Muslim settlers from neighbouring Bangladesh have killed nearly 80 people, mostly Muslims of Bengali origin, and displaced some 300,000 since July.

The state government called in the Indian Army who have orders to shoot on sight in order to maintain calm,  but the state police chief denies that any such order was given.

The state previously faced ethnic violence in the 1990s and the late 1970s. Tens of thousands were displaced in 1996-1997 and 1979-1985.

Surrounded by China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan, Assam is home to more than 200 ethnic and tribal groups. Muslim Bangladeshis make up most of the immigrants.


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