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UAE's du starts restricting Internet access

DUBAI, April 14 (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates' second telecom operator du DU.DU began blocking on Monday Web sites that conflict with the country's moral values, raising concerns among residents about freedoms in the booming Gulf state.

Emirates Telecommunications Co ETEL.AD (Etisalat) has long blocked pornographic, gambling, dating and politically or otherwise sensitive sites in the UAE, but its rival du, whose services cover Dubai's media and Internet free zones, had not.

“The World Wide Web offers us great opportunities to get and share information and to communicate. However, it is imperative that when making use of this technology for its enormous benefits, we respect the moral, social and cultural values of the United Arab Emirates,” du said in a statement to customers.

“du will be blocking all content that is not in line with these values, effective from 14 April.”

The UAE, a seven-member federation including the Gulf trade and tourism hub of Dubai, is a Muslim country where gambling and sex outside of marriage are banned. Alcohol is restricted to hotels, and some licensed events and non-Muslim foreigners.

But the UAE is also home to a burgeoning number of foreigners -- from South Asian construction labourers to Western executives -- who make up over 80 percent of the population.

Residents covered by du said the changes had no substantial impact on their work, but were concerned there would be creeping restrictions on freedom in one of the more liberal countries in the conservative Gulf Arab region.

“It doesn’t really affect my work as I am not reviewing porn at work,” said Carl Alexander, an American oil analyst based in Dubai. “But there is something inherently not free about blocking Internet content in self-professed free zones.”

Governments across the Arab world filter Web sites to varying degrees and press freedoms in many parts of the region are already severely curtailed.

du said the filtering was in line with the guidelines of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority.

“The Internet is only one of many forms of communication media that is free of control. Contents are not censored by any government, unlike the newspapers, radio, TV etc... Slowly and surely, all the rights of the citizens will be taken away,” wrote Alvin in a comment on the Gulf News Web site.

Others were concerned that social networking sites they use to keep in touch with friends around the world would be blocked.

Some readers who posted comments on the Gulf News Web site supported the move.

“I fully support it. There are enough crazy things going around in this country already, so we do not wish to expose more from the Internet to our young generation,” wrote Hassan from the UAE capital Abu Dhabi. (Editing by Stephen Weeks)

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