China arrests five for "rumours" online: Xinhua

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - China has arrested five people on charges of blackmail and spreading false information online, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday, as the government intensifies a campaign to banish rumours.

The Internet, and microblogs, have proven a potent alternative to China's tightly-censored state media as an outlet for grievances and a way to out corrupt officials.

But analysts say the ruling Communist Party's relative lack of control makes officials nervous.

Xinhua said Mr Ge Qiwei, whom it called the leader of the group arrested, had posed as a journalist and tried to blackmail officials with negative information.

"He also fabricated and spread rumours to create trouble, which has severely smeared the image of local governments and disturbed social order," it added, quoting the prosecutor's office in the city of Hengyang in south-central Hunan province.

Hundreds of people have been detained in China since August, say Chinese media and rights groups, as the government has stepped up efforts to rein in online rumours. Most have been released, but some are still being held on criminal charges.

Xinhua said Mr Ge, originally named Zhou Bo, had confessed and wrote, "The irresponsible spread of information has brought extreme negative effects to society." Mr Ge's targets were spread across the public and private sectors in more than 10 provinces and cities and the cases involved millions of yuan, it said, quoting the Hengyang procuratorate.

Mr Ge, 29, was detained in late August.

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