Saudi Arabia to allow internet access

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- In a revolutionary move, Saudi Arabia will legalize access to the Internet and has invited bids from potential service providers, the Arab News reports.

The newspaper reports that a senior Saudi official told a business gathering in the capital of Riyadh that an Internet policy has already been drawn up by the government of the conservative Islamic kingdom.

The King Abdul-Aziz City for Science and Technology established a separate division to fund and "supervise the whole process of linking Saudi Arabia with the rest of the world through Internet services," Saleh ibn Abdurahman Al-Athel, the city's head, was quoted as saying.

Interested Internet service providers have until June 3 to submit applications, with a decision scheduled to be made within the following few weeks.

Access to the Internet in the Arab kingdom has so far been denied due to fears of material that would offend strict Islamic sensitivities. A newly completed study on censoring offending material will aid the government in blocking such racy sites from the country's subscribers.

State-run telecoms monopolies in neighboring Arab countries currently offer Internet access but block sites that are deemed harmful to local social, cultural and political values.

While its neighbors are more relaxed about foreign print media, Saudi Arabia continues to control the entry of foreign magazines and newspapers with a fine-toothed comb. Objectionable pictures are blacked out. A few years ago, an Indian-born editor working on a local paper was prosecuted and sentenced for publishing a cartoon that lampooned Islam.

Copyright May 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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