BEIJING — China has launched an Internet crackdown amid its worst political crisis in decades, shuttering more than a dozen websites, limiting access to the country's largest microblog providers and arresting six people for spreading rumors about a coup attempt in Beijing.
The measures, announced Friday, represent the strongest attempt yet to quash speculation that the nation's leadership is racked by infighting after Bo Xilai, the controversial Communist Party chief of Chongqing, was ousted.
The official New China News Agency quoted a spokesman for the State Internet Information Office as saying authorities were punishing 16 websites and six people for "fabricating or disseminating online rumors" about "military vehicles entering Beijing and something wrong going on in Beijing."
Sina Corp. and Tencent Holdings Ltd., providers of China's popular Twitter-like services, said they were halting users' ability to comment on posts until Tuesday morning to "clean up" what they described as "harmful messages."
The latest moves are the most severe in the ongoing struggle to control social media, considered one of the biggest challenges to the government's authority. Sina and Tencent have 300 million registered accounts, forming a network that can disseminate information across the nation in seconds.
Critics said crackdowns and censorship may invite more public interest in the issues authorities are trying to hide.