FILE PHOTO: Italian director Franco Zeffirelli arrives to attend Luciano Pavarotti's funeral at the cathedral of Modena
FILE PHOTO: Italian director Franco Zeffirelli arrives to attend Luciano Pavarotti’s funeral at the cathedral of Modena September 8, 2007. REUTERS/Daniele La Monaca/File Photo

June 15, 2019

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) – Franco Zeffirelli, who directed the world’s greatest opera singers and brought Shakespeare to the cinema-going masses, has died. He was 96.

In a statement, his foundation said he died in Rome on Saturday. “Ciao Maestro,” said the announcement.

Often appreciated more by the public than critics, Zeffirelli was the last of a generation of Italian film giants who came of age after World War Two, including Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti and Vittorio De Sica.

He directed more than two dozen films, working with stars including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness, Faye Dunaway, and Jon Voight.

“Franco Zeffirelli, one of the world’s greatest men of culture, passed away this morning,” Dario Nardella, the mayor of Zeffirelli’s home city of Florence, said in a Twitter post. “Goodbye dear Maestro, Florence will never forget you.”

Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said Zeffirelli would “remain in the hearts and the history of this country.”

Zeffirelli’s opera productions for the stage included singers such as Maria Callas, Placido Domingo, Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Renata Scotto and Jose Carreras.

In a 2013 interview to mark his 90th birthday, he said the general public would remember him most for his 1968 film of “Romeo and Juliet,” the 1977 television mini-series “Jesus of Nazareth,” and “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” his 1972 film tribute to St. Francis of Assisi.

“Romeo and Juliet”, one of several times Zeffirelli brought Shakespeare to the screen, was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director Oscars. His 1990 “Hamlet” starred Mel Gibson.

One of the high points of his opera career was a triumphant production of Verdi’s Aida at Milan’s La Scala in 2006, which won more than 15 minutes of applause on opening night.

However, Zeffirelli’s unconventional ventures into opera were often welcomed more abroad than at home, particularly in the United States, where he had more than a dozen top productions at the New York Metropolitan Opera.

In 1994 Zeffirelli, who directed several productions at London’s Covent Garden, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his “valuable services to British performing arts”.

A homosexual and devout Catholic, he revealed in his 2006 autobiography that he had been seduced by a priest when he was a teenager. But he said it was not molestation because there was no violence.

Zeffirelli hated the term “gay”, saying it was “undignified”.

“How can you say that Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were ‘gay’?” he asked Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper. “Being homosexual carries with it a great weight of responsibility and difficult social, human and cultural choices”.


Zeffirelli was born in Florence on February 12, 1923, to Alaide Garosi Cipriani, a seamstress, and Ottorino Corsi, a cloth salesman. Because they were married to other people, the law at the time meant he could not take either of their surnames and had to be registered by another one.

His mother, who loved Mozart, chose “Zeffiretti” after the Italian word for “little zephyrs” (breezes) in an aria in the Austrian composer’s Italian-language opera “Idomeneo”. But a transcription error by a city hall clerk made it forever “Zeffirelli”.

“Relatives and friends were horrified and very worried for the future which lay ahead of her,” he told a Catholic magazine in 2003. “Some advised her to have an abortion, but she refused. She believed that the child which was about to be born was a monument to her great love.”

His mother died of tuberculosis when he was six and he was raised by an aunt and at times by a group of eccentric ex-pat English women in Florence known as “Gli Scorpioni” (The Scorpions) for their biting wit.

Under their influence and tutelage, he learned to love English and Shakespeare, an experience that formed the basis of his 1999 film “Tea With Mussolini,” starring Joan Plowright, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Cher.

“They taught me all the important things in life,” he told an interviewer in 1999. “These ladies helped me to understand my own city, my own culture and my own upbringing.”

In World War Two, Zeffirelli fought as a partisan before becoming an interpreter for the Scots Guards.

After the war, he studied architecture at the University of Florence and was drawn into theater and film, working initially as an assistant to Visconti, the director, for whom he designed the set for the first Italian production of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 1949.

Away from the screen and the stage, Zeffirelli was often in the news for his outspoken views.

In 1993, he was criticized by the Vatican for saying there should be capital punishment for women who have abortions.

From 1994 to 2001 he served as a senator for former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative Forza Italia party, hoping to inject culture into politics. He later said he regretted the decision.

Speaking in 2017 about his Christian faith, he told the Catholic newspaper Avvenire: “Faith is a gift, I am certain of that. I have it and I must hold on to it tightly. I know the past will never return but I am not saddened because I’ve had a full life, even though it began uphill.”

(Reporting by Philip Pullella and Gavin Jones.; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Mike Harrison)

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FILE PHOTO: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech inside Parliament in Khartoum
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech inside Parliament in Khartoum, Sudan April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo

June 15, 2019

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s chief prosecutor said on Saturday that ousted President Omar al-Bashir would be sent for trial soon on corruption charges related to his three decades in power.

Alwaleed Sayed Ahmed Mahmoud told a news conference the trial referral would be made after a one-week period for objections expires, adding that criminal cases have been opened against 41 other former officials accused of graft.

The prosecutor’s office said on Thursday that Bashir, who was ousted by the military in April following months of protests against his 30-year autocratic rule, had been charged with corruption after an investigation was completed.

The charges are related to laws on “suspected illicit wealth and emergency orders,” the office said, without giving more details.

Bashir had already been charged in May with incitement and involvement in the killing of protesters. Prosecutors also ordered his interrogation on suspicion of money laundering and terrorism financing.

Mahmoud also said he had attended a meeting with military heads to discuss judicial supervision of a plan to clear what he called “criminals” from an area adjacent to a protest camp in the center of the capital.

But the idea of dispersing the protesters was not discussed, he added.

The country’s military rulers said on Thursday they had thwarted several coup attempts and that some officers had been arrested over the deadly dispersal of protesters at a sit-in in Khartoum earlier this month.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Helen Popper)

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Informal meeting of EU leaders in Sibiu
FILE PHOTO: Ireland’s Prime Minister (Taoiseach) and Defence Minister Leo Varadkar arrives for the informal meeting of European Union leaders in Sibiu, Romania, May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

June 15, 2019

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland will not allow the Northern Ireland “backstop” clause in Britain’s EU withdrawal agreement to be dropped because doing so would be as big a threat to the country as Britain leaving without a deal, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Saturday.

While it is “alarming” that leading contenders to replace Theresa May as Britain’s Prime Minister are increasingly threatening a no-deal Brexit, Ireland was 100 percent certain the European Union would not allow the backstop to go, he said.

Leadership contenders, including front-runner Boris Johnson, have called for the controversial Irish clause that is designed to avoid border checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland to be changed or scrapped. They have said Britain would be prepared to leave without a deal if there was no compromise.

“To me no backstop is effectively the same as no-deal because what the backstop is is … a legally operable guarantee that we will never see a hard border emerge again,” Varadkar told RTE radio. “If we don’t have that, that is no deal.”

How to manage the land border between EU-member Ireland and British-run Northern Ireland – including an emergency “backstop” solution to prevent the return of extensive frontier controls – has proven the most contentious element of Britain’s planned exit from the European Union.

Varadkar again rejected a proposal for a time limit on the Northern Ireland clause, saying a backstop with a time limit is “not a backstop.”

He said that Ireland remained open to the possibility of alternative arrangements that would allow an open border with Northern Ireland while protecting the European Union’s single market – something Johnson has suggested may offer a solution.

But Varadkar said that would only be a possibility once the technologies required had been demonstrated to work effectively.

“What people are saying is give up the backstop, which we know will work legally and operationally in return for something that doesn’t yet exist but might exist in the future … I can’t do that to the border communities,” Varadkar said.

Varadkar said he was looking forward to sitting down with May’s replacement, but said the next prime minister should not expect a better Brexit deal.

“The fact that the failure of the House Of Commons to ratify the withdrawal agreement somehow means they are going to get a better deal, that is just not how the European Union works,” he said.

(Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Edmund Blair)

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Tennis - Australian Open - First Round
FILE PHOTO: Tennis – Australian Open – First Round – Melbourne Arena, Melbourne, Australia, January 14, 2019. Britain’s Andy Murray in action during the match against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

June 15, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray will face Queen’s Club top seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah when he makes his return from hip surgery alongside Spain’s Feliciano Lopez next week.

Murray, 32, is playing doubles as he takes his first steps back to the tour having undergone a hip resurfacing operation earlier this year.

He last played at the Australian Open in January.

Murray is also expected to play doubles at the Eastbourne championships the following week and at Wimbledon.

Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas is the top seed in the singles with Kevin Anderson, runner-up at Wimbledon last year, the second seed. South African Anderson skipped the claycourt season.

The tournament begins on Monday.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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FILE PHOTO: People pose with mobile devices in front of projection of Youtube logo in this picture illustration taken in Zenica
FILE PHOTO: People are silhouetted as they pose with mobile devices in front of a screen projected with a Youtube logo, in this picture illustration taken in Zenica October 29, 2014. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

June 12, 2019

By James Pearson

HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam has asked companies not to advertise on videos hosted by Google’s YouTube that contain “anti-state propaganda,” state media said on Wednesday, as the Southeast Asian country ramps up pressure on global tech giants.

Despite economic reforms and increasing openness to social change, the ruling Communist Party retains tight media censorship in Vietnam and does not tolerate dissent.

“Google was found to loosely manage its content, allowing users to buy ads directly from YouTube and Google without the involvement of domestic ad agents,” the Vietnam News Agency (VNA) said, referring to a June 7 announcement by the Ministry of Information and Communication.

The ministry listed several foreign companies, including Samsung Electronics, Huawei Technologies, Yamaha Motors and ride-sharing app Grab, which were found to have advertised on videos containing “illegal and malicious content,” it added.

Vietnam’s information ministry has identified about 55,000 YouTube videos it deemed “harmful”, or in violation of Vietnamese law, the agency said. Of these, 8,000 were deleted at the request of Vietnamese authorities.

“In the near future, the authorities will ask YouTube to identify Vietnamese channels, and only certified ones will be considered for ad revenue sharing,” it added, without elaborating.

A controversial law on cybersecurity took effect in January that requires companies to set up offices in Vietnam and store data there.

Global technology firms and rights groups have pushed back against the law, and some company officials have privately expressed concern it could allow authorities to more easily seize customer data and expose Vietnamese employees to arrest.

In the months before introduction of the law, Facebook increased curbs on content by more than 500% in Vietnam, the social media giant said last month.

In January, days after the new law took effect, Vietnam said Facebook had violated it by letting users post anti-government comments.

Vietnam’s information ministry has asked businesses to “actively review” their advertising on social media, VNA said.

“The (information) ministry will work with the State Bank of Vietnam and relevant agencies to closely manage ad revenue flows on YouTube and Google,” it said.

Reuters could not immediately reach a Google spokesman to seek comment.

(Reporting by James Pearson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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Pumpjacks are seen against the setting sun at the Daqing oil field in Heilongjiang
FILE PHOTO: Pumpjacks are seen against the setting sun at the Daqing oil field in Heilongjiang province, China December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

June 11, 2019

By Henning Gloystein

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices rose on Tuesday in line with firmer financial markets and bolstered by expectations that producer group OPEC and its allies will keep withholding supply.

Front-month Brent crude futures were at $62.56 at 0707 GMT, up 27 cents, or 0.4%, from Monday’s close.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $53.75 per barrel, 49 cents, or 0.9%, above their last settlement.

Prices fell by around 1% in the previous session and crude futures are down by some 20% from their 2019 peaks in late April, dragged lower by a widespread economic downturn that has started to impact oil consumption.

Traders said crude oil futures on Tuesday were pushed up by a broader lift in financial markets after Beijing eased financing rules to stem an economic downturn.

On the production side, Russia said on Monday it might support an extension of supply cuts that have been in place since January, warning oil prices could fall as low as $30 per barrel if producers supply too much crude.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and some non-affiliated producers including Russia, known collectively as OPEC+, have withheld supplies since the start of the year to prop up prices.

OPEC+ is due to meet in late June or early July to decide output policy for the rest of the year.

“It seems likely that OPEC will roll over the current supply cuts at the next meeting,” said Callum MacPherson, head of commodities at investment bank Investec.

Despite this, MacPherson said “there is a limit to how much longer it (OPEC+) can continue to avoid addressing the serious challenge of being squeezed out by growing U.S. production”.

U.S. crude output has risen by 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd) over the past year, to a record of 12.4 million bpd, making the United States the world’s biggest oil producer ahead of Russia and Saudi Arabia.

On the demand side, analysts expect fuel consumption growth to stutter along with the global economy.

Energy consultancy FGE said global crude oil demand growth could drop below 1 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2019, down from previous expectations of 1.3 to 1.4 million bpd.

“This effectively gives us an extra 300,000-400,000 barrels per day of supply,” said FGE chairman Fereidun Fesharaki.

This revision comes on the back of concerns about the health of the global economy.

“With China slowing, the EU sickly and the U.S. data starting to wobble, an economic downturn remains a clear and present danger,” said Stephen Innes, managing partner at Vanguard Markets.

(Reporting by Henning Gloystein; editing by Richard Pullin)

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Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur who is seeking the Democratic nomination, at Sunday’s Iowa event. Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa—In both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, the sprawling field of Democratic presidential hopefuls made clear Sunday that Joe Biden has a large political target on his back.

Following a week in which Mr. Biden stumbled as he reversed his stance on abortion funding, several 2020 candidates sought to contrast themselves with the Democratic front-runner at the Iowa Hall of Fame celebration, one of the party’s annual fundraisers. The heightened combativeness served as a preview to the first primary debates late this month.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Mr. Biden’s chief rival according to polls, said Democrats won’t defeat President Trump “unless we bring excitement and energy into this campaign.” He added, “The status quo—same old, same old kind of politics—will not do that,” in what many among the 1,400 state Democratic activists gathered at the event interpreted as a jab at the former vice president.

Without mentioning Mr. Biden by name, Mr. Sanders said there were some “well-intentioned Democrats and candidates” who thought the best way to achieve victory in 2020 is through a “middle ground strategy that antagonizes no one, that stands up to nobody and that changes nothing.”

Mr. Biden didn’t attend the gathering although Iowa will launch the Democratic nomination voting in less than eight months. Nineteen of his 22 rivals were scheduled to speak, with candidates each getting five minutes to make their pitch.

The former vice president, who also bypassed a California convention last weekend that attracted 14 candidates, instead plans to hold two days of campaign events in Iowa on Tuesday and Wednesday, overlapping with Mr. Trump’s first visit to the state this year.

Mr. Biden’s campaign didn’t comment on his rival’s pitches and he tweeted Sunday that he was thrilled to watch his granddaughter graduate from high school.

Joe Biden, seen last month in Philadelphia, didn’t attend the Iowa gathering. Photo: dominick reuter/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Last week, Mr. Biden said he now opposes a ban on the use of federal funds for most abortions, reversing his longstanding position amid pressure from fellow Democrats and abortion-rights groups. He said he could no longer support the Hyde Amendment, which bans government funding of abortions except for victims of rape and incest. Mr. Biden blamed Republican efforts to limit access to the procedure and overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

An Iowa Poll of likely Democratic caucus-goers released over the weekend showed Mr. Biden atop the field with 24%. The survey, sponsored by the Des Moines Register, CNN and Mediacom, showed Mr. Sanders supported by 16%, followed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 15%, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 14% and Sen. Kamala Harris of California at 7%. No one else topped 2%.

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The biggest political event in Iowa this year was a mecca for those involved in Democratic presidential politics. Campaign workers and volunteers waved signs and led cheers outside the venue while candidates milled about the exhibit hall, seeking to impress Democrats who will be crucial in the state’s leadoff presidential caucuses.

Inside the hall, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York chatted with former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, and his wife, Christie Vilsack, as guests helped themselves to a buffet of chicken satay, spicy meatballs and spinach dip. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, meanwhile, greeted Doug Emhoff, the husband of Ms. Harris, while Marianne Williamson, an author and spiritual adviser, chatted with activists.

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who has built a large organization in Iowa in his long-shot bid, said the party needed to have “bigger aspirations and bolder dreams” than simply defeating the president.

“Beating Donald Trump is the floor—it is not the ceiling. Beating him will get us out of the valley but it will not get us to the mountaintop,” Mr. Booker said. The senator also referred to abortion funding, saying, “abortion is health care, and health care is a right, not a privilege.”

Mr. Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor and military veteran, made a generational pitch, saying the party couldn’t succeed by returning to old policies. “We’re not going to win by playing it safe,” Mr. Buttigieg said. “We Democrats can no more promise a return to the ‘90s than the Republicans can deliver on a promise to return us to the ‘50s.”

Mr. Swalwell, meanwhile, said he would only appoint Supreme Court justices who would uphold Roe v. Wade. But he said that’s not enough. “Let’s repeal the discriminatory Hyde Amendment,” Mr. Swalwell said.

Sen. Kamala Harris of California at the Iowa event Sunday. Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News

Ms. Harris focused on her record as a prosecutor during a tongue-in-cheek speech, rattling off various forms of “fraud” that she would prosecute against the president. She said Mr. Trump committed “securities fraud” for striking up friendships with authoritarian leaders like Kim Jong Un of North Korea and Vladimir Putin of Russia, and tax fraud for the GOP’s tax rewrite of 2017.

She noted that Mr. Trump has on several occasions called himself the best American president. “Well, I say, let’s call Barack Obama because that’s identity fraud,” she said.

Before her address, Ms. Warren told reporters that she had no plans to attack fellow Democrats, even though she has sought to contrast her positions with Mr. Biden. “I’m not here to knock another Democrat, I’m just here to talk about my campaign,” she said.

Jim Garrett, a legislative director for a transportation union who attended the gathering, said he understood Mr. Biden’s absence from the event. “He’s going to have other opportunities,” he said. “What are you going to learn from him in five minutes that you don’t already know?”

Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur who is seeking the Democratic nomination, was the first to mention Mr. Biden by name, saying, “When I saw the program for today, I thought the same thing you all did, which is this: Joe Biden must really not like to travel.”

Write to Ken Thomas at and John McCormick at

To say the church Robert “Beto” O’Rourke spoke to this morning was half-empty might be generous.

There just doesn’t seem to be much interest in his candidacy for president.

Nevertheless, the failed Texas Senate candidate appeared in Waterloo, Iowa at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church on Sunday, and judging by a video tweeted by Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reporter Thomas Eric Nelson, he didn’t compel many to turn out.

Beto addressed desegregation in Texas as the audience listened quietly. A lone person coughed.

Nelson posted a photo of O’Rourke’s appearance that cropped out the empty pews:

Prior to spending time with the Christian audience, O’Rourke talked with the state director of an atheist group:

Franz Whitfield, pastor of the church, is the president of the Iowa National Action Network, Al Sharpton’s organization.

Some American embassies chose to decorate their facilities with rainbow-colored items ahead of this weekend, despite the Trump administration’s refusal to allow embassies to hang LGBT flags on official flag poles.

The U.S. embassy in New Delhi changed its cover photo to an image of rainbow lights on the building, though it’s not clear if the picture was taken at the embassy this year or a previous one.

Screen Shot 2019-06-09 at 11.15.58 AM.png

The U.S. Consulate General Chennai in India held a ceremony and flag-raising ceremony May 31.

The U.S. embassy in Seoul, South Korea, posted a large pride flag on the front of the building in late May, ahead of what is known as “Pride Month” in June. The flag was larger and hanging higher than the U.S. flag hanging out front, which would have violated the standards held by former President Barack Obama’s State Department.

The U.S. embassy in Santiago, Chile, raised a flag on May 17 in honor of the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia.

The American embassy in Austria, Vienna, also raised a flag in mid-May, though it remains unclear if those flags are still up as of June 8.

Representatives from embassies in Brazil, Germany, Israel, and Latvia had requested permission to show support for the LGBT community, but were denied.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has said he believes marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman, was in his post during June last year, though it’s not clear what protocols the administration set into place at the time.

Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his April 2018 hearing he did not support marriage between two people of the same sex.

“When I was a politician, I had a very clear view on whether it was appropriate for two same-sex persons to marry,” Pompeo said at the time. “I stand by that.”

“So do you not believe it is appropriate for two gay people to marry?” Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., asked.

“Senator, I continue to hold that view,” Pompeo said.


BEIJING – Websites of The Washington Post and the Guardian appear to now be blocked in China as the country’s government further tightens its so-called “Great Firewall” censorship apparatus as it navigates a politically sensitive period.

Until this weekend, The Post and the Guardian were among the last few major English-language outlets that were still regularly accessible from mainland China without the use of virtual private networking (VPN) software, according to the censorship tracker

Chinese Internet authorities have gone into overdrive in recent weeks ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre on June 4, 1989, prohibiting users on the popular WeChat social media service to post keywords or pictures related to the event.

All but the most oblique references to the incident were immediately scrubbed and, during the days around the anniversary, users complained about not even being able to access the function to change their avatars.

Every language edition of Wikipedia was fully banned in mid-May. A CNN reporter said the network’s website was blocked again this week shortly after ran a top story commemorating the 1989 incident.

China’s Internet censors rarely, if ever, communicate their reasoning for blocking specific websites, and it’s not clear whether the ban would be permanent. Although authorities intermittently tighten and loosen their restrictions, the trend since 2013 has shown more and more foreign websites being irrevocably added to China’s blacklist.

Outlets such as Bloomberg, the New York Times, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal have been blocked for years. So have social media services such as Facebook and Twitter and all Google-owned services, including YouTube. Other popular services such as Dropbox, Slack and WhatsApp are also prohibited.

International business lobbies, media freedoms groups and Western government officials – including U.S. trade negotiators – say the Great Firewall amounts to not only a restriction on speech but also fair practice.

The extensive censorship software now blocks more than 10,000 Web domains and is powered by artificial intelligence algorithms that tirelessly sharpen its ability to sniff out VPNs.

Chinese authorities have said their censorship practices are a matter of the country’s “Internet sovereignty” and not negotiable with foreign governments. But its officials have gone further in recent years, not only defending their approach to censorship but touting its successes as a model that authoritarian governments around the world could also adopt.

While a small number of Chinese users download VPNs to access banned websites and social media services, China has increasingly found ways to enforce the bans – including through physical intimidation.

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