China bans online talk of Egypt protests

Authorities in China have begun censoring references to the protests in Egypt, after internet users began to draw comparisons with China.

According to a report today by the UK's Guardian newspaper, users searching for the Chinese characters for 'Egypt' on popular local micro-blogging service Sina were shown a message saying that the results could not be shown due to local regulations.

Some users are reported to have got around the ban by using the English word, or characters that share the same sound - 'ai ji' - as the Chinese word for Egypt, but instead mean "sad and worried".

Chinese authorities are said to fear the spread of unrest over the internet, after reports on Twitter and a number of blogs about the demonstrations in Tunisia sparked further protest in Egypt.

The Chinese Government has maintained very careful control over coverage of the Egyptian uprising in the country's mainstream media. Newspapers and major websites have been instructed only to run short pieces from the official Xinhua state news agency - standard practice in China when it comes to dealing with sensitive topics.

China's government has called for a return to order with a statement from foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, saying: "China is paying very close attention to developments in Egypt.

"Egypt is a friend of China, and we hope Egypt will return to social stability and normal order as soon as possible."

Among the country's Internet users, support has been expressed for the Egyptian uprising. One post on a popular Baidu forum stated: "We must clearly support this revolution."

According to reports on Arabic news channel al-Jazeera, which is still covering events in Egypt despite being banned by authorities, around 250,000 protesters have gathered in Cairo's main Tahrir square.

Scenes from Cairo are reminiscent of the events of 1989, when between 400 and 800 civilians are believed to have been killed after Chinese tanks opened fire on an estimated 100,000 dissidents gathered in Beijing's Tiananmen square in anti-government protests.