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China gags virus weekly

Beijing, June 23 (Reuters): Chinese authorities have barred the latest issue of maverick business magazine Caijing from news stands after it flouted a ban on sensitive subjects with a bombardment of exposes and calls for greater media transparency.

The magazine — full of articles on the impact of SARS, a thickening banking scandal in Shanghai and moves by Communist Party leaders to amend the constitution — reached subscribers over the weekend, but not kiosks.

Officials ordered June 20 edition of the bi-weekly glossy held indefinitely at the printers in Beijing, said an official of Caijing’s sole distributor in the capital, Beijing Tianwen. “Not a single copy was distributed within Beijing because it has some problems,” he said.

“People higher up have ordered a suspension of distribution because of what is sensitive in the issue,” he said, declining to be specific. The ban might be lifted, he added, but he could not speculate when. The Communist Party propaganda arm is trying to muzzle more independent voices in the tightly supervised media after a cover-up of the SARS epidemic led to nearly two months of relative leniency.

Editors and academics say the controls aim to temper a debate on the need for legal and media reforms fomenting since the outbreak of SARS and other scandals, lest it aggravate high-level political frictions.

They say it is not surprising ahead of the July 1 anniversary of the Communist Party’s founding, when party chief Hu Jintao is expected to deliver a speech discussing “inner party democracy”.

Caijing was the second publication hit by the clampdown. Earlier this month, officials shut down the news tabloid Beijing Xin Bao for a piece ridiculing party officials.

It was not clear what had triggered the ban on the influential publication. Reporters and officials at Caijing, a well-connected soapbox for reformists published by a government-backed financial think tank, refused comment. But its exclusive stories ran the gamut of topics currently deemed taboo.

The cover flashed a report about The Rise and Fall of Zhou Zhengyi, the Shanghai property baron detained over suspicious bank loans in a probe which could stain members of the so-called Shanghai Gang of leaders linked to the still powerful ex-party chief, Jiang Zemin.

And the magazine carried the most revealing article to date in Chinese media about the Politburo manoeuvring to amend the constitution.

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