Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Savvy Internet users defy China’s censors on riot

Independent information about deadly riots in China’s remote northwest filtered out on Twitter, YouTube and other Internet forums on Monday, frustrating government efforts to control the news, AFP reported.

The communist authorities who built the so-called Great Firewall of China raced to stamp out video, images and words posted by Internet users about the unrest on Sunday which, officials said, left at least 140 people dead.

Twitter and YouTube appeared to be blocked in China late on Monday afternoon, while leading Chinese search engines would not give results for ‘Urumqi,’ the city in Xinjiang where the riots occurred.

Traditional press also carried only the official version of events, which blamed the unrest on ethnic Muslim Uighurs.

But similar to the phenomenon seen last month during Iran’s political turmoil, pictures, videos and updates from Urumqi poured onto social networking and image sharing websites such as Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

In many cases, items were reposted by other Internet users on sites outside China to preserve the content, while Twitter helped link people around the globe to images Chinese authorities did not want seen.

A US academic in Urumqi appeared to break news about the unrest via Twitter, saying hours before the mainstream news organisations on Sunday night that security forces were blocking off streets in the city.

State-run China Central Television showed its first images of the violence just before midday Monday — more than 12 hours after footage began circulating on the Internet.

CCTV broadcast images of a woman apparently being kicked as she lay on the ground, protesters throwing stones at police, vehicles on fire, and two young girls with bloodied hands comforting each other.

But its footage gave a different impression to some of the clips on YouTube that Uighur exile groups said backed their case the protesters were largely peaceful.

Footage posted on YouTube showed what appeared to be, at least initially, a peaceful protest, with men and women marching, chatting on mobile phones, sipping bottled water and raising their arms as they cheered.

Another video on the site apparently taken by low-grade video technology in Urumqi showed police in black helmets leading away handcuffed protesters.

Meanwhile some Chinese Internet users were able to express frustration at having their postings on the violence deleted. In one case, Chinese blogger Wen Ni’er reposted an entry on a Google site.

‘Chinese mainland websites repeatedly deleted my post, which seriously violated China’s law and violated my freedom and rights. I hereby want to express my strong disgust and condemnation,’ she wrote.

She had help from other anonymous sites based outside of China that were aggregating and saving both official and non-official materials about the incident, such as drop.io/urumuqi.

‘I saved them primarily because once the Chinese censors order a take-down, they might not be seen again. Indeed, since I saved them, many of these pictures were ‘harmonised’ and can no longer be accessed,’ the site’s operator wrote.

China’s Urumqi city in chaos as mobs vow revenge

Police on Tuesday fired tear gas to disperse thousands of Han Chinese protesters armed with makeshift weapons and vowing revenge, as chaos gripped this flashpoint city riven by ethnic tensions, AFP reported.

Authorities ordered a night curfew and thousands of heavily armed police deployed across Urumqi, the capital of China’s remote northwest Xinjiang region.

But tensions spiked dramatically following weekend clashes that claimed at least 156 lives.

Authorities said they had arrested 1,434 suspects, accusing them of murder, assault, looting and burning during attacks by Muslim Uighurs against the Han, China’s dominant ethnic group who are seen in Xinjiang as oppressors.

But despite the security clampdown involving police with submachine guns, shotguns and batons, mobs of Han Chinese marched through Urumqi — with many wielding bricks, chains and poles and bent on reprisals against Uighurs.

‘The Uighurs came to our area to smash things, now we are going to their area to beat them,’ one protester, who was carrying a metal pipe, told AFP.

Dong Sun, a 19-year-old leader of one mob, expressed similar fury. ‘There are more of us,’ he said in reference to the number of Han Chinese versus Uighurs. ‘It is time we looked after ourselves instead of waiting for the government.’

Police repeatedly fired volleys of tear gas, but many of the demonstrators refused to yield ground despite their eyes streaming and their throats welling with pain, an AFP reporter witnessed.

By late afternoon there were no reports of deaths or injuries in Tuesday’s unrest. But mobs continued to march through the streets.

Meanwhile, authorities confirmed they had cut off Internet access in parts of Urumqi in an attempt to control the flow of information.

‘We cut Internet connection in some areas of Urumqi in order to quench the riot quickly and prevent violence from spreading to other places,’ the city’s top Communist Party official, Li Zhi, told state media.

But the authorities’ efforts to impose a blackout have been stymied by a flood of pictures, videos and eyewitness updates appearing on popular websites such as Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

Authorities also reported that police dispersed ‘more than 200 rioters’ who gathered Monday night outside the main mosque in Kashgar, another city in Xinjiang about 1,050 kilometres southwest of Urumqi.

Police believed people were ‘trying to organise more unrest’ in other cities across Xinjiang, a vast mountainous and desert region that borders Central Asia, according to Xinhua.

Sunday’s unrest saw thousands of Muslim Uighurs take to the streets, with state television showing protesters attacking Han Chinese in scenes reminiscent of last year’s violence in Tibet.

China’s eight million Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking people who have long complained about the influx of Han Chinese into what they regard as their homeland, as well as political and cultural repression.

Exiled Uighur groups have sought to lay the blame for Sunday’s violence on Chinese authorities, saying the protests were peaceful until Chinese security forces over-reacted and fired indiscriminately on crowds.

China has accused exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer of masterminding the violence, which also left more than 1,000 injured, but she has denied the accusations and called on Monday for an international probe into the violence.

‘We hope that the United Nations, the United States and the European Union will send teams to investigate what really took place in Xinjiang,’ Kadeer told reporters in Washington, urging a forceful response from the White House.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, in a brief statement issued from Moscow during US President Barack Obama’s visit there, said the United States was ‘deeply concerned’ about the reports of deaths in Urumqi.

The statement called for ‘all in Xinjiang to exercise restraint.’ The identities of those killed and injured in the riots remained unclear on Tuesday. Chinese authorities have not said how many were Han Chinese or Uighur.

Google Chrome OS

In the second half of 2010, Google plans to launch the Google Chrome OS, an operating system designed from the ground up to run the Chrome web browser on netbooks. “It’s our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be,” Google writes tonight on its blog.

But let’s be clear on what this really is. This is Google dropping the mother of bombs on its chief rival, Microsoft. It even says as much in the first paragraph of its post, “However, the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web.” Yeah, who do you think they mean by that?

And it’s a genius play. So many people are buying netbooks right now, but are running WIndows XP on them. Windows XP is 8 years old. It was built to run on Pentium IIIs and Pentium 4s. Google Chrome OS is built to run on both x86 architecture chips and ARM chips, like the ones increasingly found in netbooks. It is also working with multiple OEMs to get the new OS up and running next year.

Obviously, this Chrome OS will be lightweight and fast just like the browser itself. But also just like the browser, it will be open-sourced. Think Microsoft will be open-sourcing Windows anytime soon?

As Google writes, “We have a lot of work to do, and we’re definitely going to need a lot of help from the open source community to accomplish this vision.” They might as well set up enlistment booths on college campuses for their war against Microsoft.

Google says the software architecture will basically be the current Chrome browser running inside “a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel.” So in other words, it basically is the web as an OS. And applications developers will develop for it just as they would on the web. This is similar to the approach Palm has taken with its new webOS for the Palm Pre, but Google notes that any app developed for Google Chrome OS will work in any standards-compliant browser on any OS.

nuclear-bomb-badger350What Google is doing is not recreating a new kind of OS, they’re creating the best way to not need one at all.

So why release this new OS instead of using Android? After all, it has already been successfully ported to netbooks. Google admits that there is some overlap there. But a key difference they don’t mention is the ability to run on the x86 architecture. Android cannot do that (though there are ports), Chrome OS can and will. But more, Google wants to emphasize that Chrome OS is all about the web, whereas Android is about a lot of different things. Including apps that are not standard browser-based web apps.

But Chrome OS will be all about the web apps. And no doubt HTML 5 is going to be a huge part of all of this. A lot of people are still wary about running web apps for when their computer isn’t connected to the web. But HTML 5 has the potential to change that, as you’ll be able to work in the browser even when not connected, and upload when you are again.

We’re starting to see more clearly why Google’s Vic Gundotra was pushing HTML 5 so hard at Google I/O this year. Sure, part of it was about things like Google Wave, but Google Wave is just one of many new-style apps in this new Chrome OS universe.

But there is a wild card in all of this still for Microsoft: Windows 7. While Windows XP is 8 years old, and Windows Vista is just generally considered to be a bad OS for netbooks, Windows 7 could offer a good netbook experience. And Microsoft had better hope so, or its claim that 96% of netbooks run Windows is going to be very different in a year.