China added 51 million Internet users last year, underscoring the challenges faced by leaders seeking to tighten control over web services that have been used to expose corruption and criticize the government.
The nation had 564 million Internet users at the end of 2012, up 10 percent from the year before, according to the government-run China Internet Network Information Center. China has more web users than the population of any other country in the world excluding India.
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Internet services including Sina Corp.'s Twitter-like Weibo have become a platform used by activists to expose official wrongdoing, and the Communist Party has sought more control over them. The government blocks access to websites with pornography, gambling and content critical of party rule.
Lawmakers passed rules last month requiring people to register their names when signing up for Internet and phone services, following implementation of similar requirements for microblog users in China's biggest cities.
Online content has led to the removal of government officials including a district party boss in Chongqing, who the official Xinhua News Agency reported was fired in November after a sex tape of him circulated on the Internet. Another Communist Party official was fired in September after pictures posted online showed him wearing 11 luxury watches at different times, according to Xinhua.