BEIJING - With the Olympic spotlight off it, China has resumed blocking access to the Internet sites of some foreign media, reversing promises it made to expand press freedom as part of its bid to win the Games, human-rights groups and press advocates said yesterday.

The Chinese-language Web sites of the BBC and Voice of America, along with the Hong Kong-based media Ming Pao and Asiaweek, are among the sites that have been inaccessible since early December, the press-rights group Reporters Without Borders said.

"The pretense of liberalization is now over," the group said in a statement, urging China to unblock the sites.

Earlier this week, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao defended China's right to censor Web sites that have material deemed illegal by the government, saying that other countries regulate their Internet usage too.

He said some Web sites - which he did not name - breached Chinese laws by recognizing Taiwan as an independent nation rather than a part of China.

"I hope that these Web sites exercise self-discipline and abide by the Chinese laws, in order to pave the way for better Internet cooperation," Liu said.

During the Summer Games in August, China allowed access to long-barred Web sites such as those of the BBC and Human Rights Watch after an outcry from foreign reporters that Beijing was failing to live up to its pledges of greater media freedom.

That China is blocking those sites again is not surprising, said Rebecca MacKinnon, a journalism professor who teaches about media and the Internet at the University of Hong Kong.

"There were a lot of foreigners running around covering the Olympics," she said. "It made sense to unblock at that time. But things always go in phases. And during politically sensitive times, you always get a tightening."

Nicholas Bequelin, Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said Beijing was also taking advantage of the fact that world attention had moved away from China since the Olympics.

"The spotlight has moved out of China," he said, "so it's easier to suppress dissent when you don't have 10,000 journalists in town."

Bequelin said he believed that the Internet restrictions were part of a larger attempt at political control during a period of uncertainty and potential instability. China is facing a serious economic downturn this year, and social unrest has increased.

China to Execute Uighur Attackers

A Chinese court

yesterday sentenced two men to death for an attack in the far-west region of Xinjiang that killed 17 police officers four days before the Beijing Olympics in August.

The Aug. 4 attack

took place in the ancient

Silk Road city of Kashgar near the

border with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The two stole

a truck

and rammed it into

a group of police on their morning jog. They continued attacking with knives and homemade bombs, killing the officers and wounding 15 more.

"The Kashgar court

said the two conducted the terrorist attack to sabotage the Beijing Olympic Games," Xinhua news agency said. It said they were Kashgar natives, Abdurahman Azat, 33, and Kurbanjan Hemit, 28.

Chinese authorities

say extremists among the Uighurs - Turkic- speaking Muslims -

are leading a violent Islamic separatist movement in Xinjiang.

- Associated Press