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Iran lifts ban on Facebook

Iran unblocked Facebook just days after the popular social networking website was banned, an Iranian news agency reported Tuesday.

The Iranian Labor News Agency, or ILNA, said the site is now accessible to ordinary Web surfers. The rescinding of the ban came a day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied he was behind the decision to block the site, which has been used by his challengers to rally supporters for next month’s presidential election.

Reformist challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister, was using Facebook to generate buzz for his campaign. According to the tersely worded ILNA report, the site has been blocked and unblocked numerous times over the last few days.

A committee of representatives from the Interior Ministry, intelligence service, judiciary branch and parliament decides on which sites are to be blocked, according to ILNA.

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Iranian Internet service providers had banned Facebook, making it inaccessible to dial-up and broadband users. Government officials were fearful it could be used by foreign services to recruit operatives or by activists to organize anti-government protests.

But in January, after watching the way activists elsewhere were using Facebook to promote opposition to the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, Iranian authorities quietly lifted the ban.

More than a third of Iranians use the Internet, according to the Internet World Stats market research site.

Despite strict controls, the Internet is quickly becoming an essential tool in Iranian politics, with presidential contenders like Mehdi Karroubi launching campaign websites and Mousavi using Twitter and even launching his own YouTube channel.

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daragahi@latimes.com


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