China has started restoring some Internet access to a province where it was blocked after deadly ethnic riots two weeks ago, but the outage has already taken a toll on local businesses.
China blocked all Internet access in western Xinjiang province to prevent the spread of rioting that killed at least 197 and injured 1,600. Chinese state media has accused Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority, of using instant messaging programs and Web sites like Facebook to plan the violence, which started with attacks against the majority Han Chinese ethnic group.
But the Internet lockdown has also slowed or crippled business for local companies with mainly online operations.
"I'm extremely worried, I don't know when the Internet will come back" said Deng Jing, a Xinjiang resident who runs an online store selling dried fruit, nuts and other snacks to buyers around China.
An associate in Gansu province, hundreds of miles away, has managed Deng's online communication and sales during the Internet outage, she said. Deng said the arrangement could be handled by phone but has pushed up costs.
"The impact on our work has been very large," Deng said.
Xinjiang has started restoring Internet access for some "specialized" online operations, the state-run Xinhua news agency cited a local official as saying over the weekend.
But the official did not elaborate on where the Internet was available, and said public access would only return gradually as the province stabilizes, according to the report.
China also blocked Twitter and Facebook across the country following the riots, and those Web sites remained inaccessible in the country on Monday.
The ethnic rioting on June 5 began with peaceful Uighur marches in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, but turned violent late in the day. Mobs of Han Chinese responded by carrying clubs and shovels through the city's streets in search of Uighurs days later. Of the people killed, at least 137 were Han Chinese and 46 were Uighurs, according to an official breakdown given before the death toll was increased.
The rioting was sparked by anger in Xinjiang over an ethnic brawl that left two Uighurs dead at a toy factory in far-away southern China.
Chinese state media also said the Internet lockdown had harmed e-businesses in Xinjiang. One online shop owner in Urumqi had made no sales for several days, the state-run newspaper China Daily said.