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Iran cuts off access to YouTube Web site

TEHRAN -- Iran has blocked access to YouTube.com, and a media-rights group warned Tuesday that Internet censorship in the Islamic state is on the rise. Internet users who tried to call up the video-sharing YouTube site Tuesday were met with the message, "On the basis of the Islamic Republic of Iran laws, access to this Web site is not authorized."It was not known how long the site had been on Iran's Web blacklist. The Paris-based media-rights group Reporters Without Borders said YouTube had been blocked for five days.

Iran's Shiite cleric-run government regularly blocks opposition Web sites, including blogs, and the number of sites that bring up the "unauthorized" message has been increasing over the past year. Western news sites, however, are generally available.

Videos from the Mujahedeen Khalq and other Iranian opposition groups have been posted on YouTube.com, along with videos posted by individual Iranians critical of the regime. The site also has Iranian pop music videos, which are frowned upon by the religious leadership.

In its statement Tuesday, Reporters Without Borders warned that "censorship is now the rule rather than the exception" in Iran.

"The government is trying to create a digital border to stop culture and news coming from abroad--a vision of the Net which is worrying for the country's future," it said.

"The Iranian government policy is not an isolated case. It is getting closer and closer to that of the authorities in China, with particular stress being laid on censorship of cultural output," it said.

In October, Reporters Without Borders named Iran as one of the 13 worst culprits for online censorship, along with Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Hard-liners have severely restricted pro-reform newspapers over the past six years after they blossomed following the 1997 election of reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

Conservatives in the courts shut down many even before Khatami was succeeded by hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last year. Some independent newspapers remain, but their criticism of the government is muted for fear of being shut down.

Also Tuesday in Iran, Ahmadinejad, who has described the Holocaust as a "myth," said the nation will hold a conference to discuss the evidence of the World War II genocide.

The two-day conference is scheduled for next week, Deputy Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mohammadi said.

"The president simply asked whether an event called the Holocaust has actually taken place. . . . No rational response was ever given," Mohammadi said, explaining the reason for the conference.

The conference is yet another step in Ahmadinejad's public campaign against Israel. He also has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

Mohammadi rejected any suggestion the conference would support anti-Semitism, saying that was a "Western phenomenon." The proof, he said, was Iran's community of 25,000 Jews. He said the conference seeks to "provide an opportunity for scholars to offer their opinions in freedom."

Iran has repeatedly announced plans for the gathering, including during UN chief Kofi Annan's visit in September when he said that an exhibition of cartoons denying the Holocaust, which was on display at the time, promotes hatred. -ap

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