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South Korean president Lee Myung-bek is seeking to crack down on the internet community which has helped intensify and focus criticism of his unpopular government, by introducing a Cyber Defamation Law.

Korea's online community has railed against Myung-bek over such issues as renewed imports of US beef, the sovereignty of the Dokdo islands, criminal allegations against the president's family and the appointment of a presidential supporter to run a leading broadcasting company.

With the introduction of the law, intended to bring online publishing in line with its paper-based rival, the Korean Communications Commission would get the power to suspend sites which overstep the mark. The government wants action to stop "infodemics" - false stories which spread rapidly via websites and blogs.

Two examples, related to renewals of US beef imports, were fears that Koreans had a genetic propensity to develop mad cow disease, and that a beef by-product used in nappies also put Korean babies at risk of the disease.

The world's most wired nation has created a more liberal online media than the very traditional and conservative mainstream press. Korean newspapers, fighting falling circulation, are supporting calls for action.

The law will also force publishers to get real name registrations from anyone who wishes to comment on a story or in a forum. KCC is also threatening to take action against cyber-bullying.

Korean journalists have criticised the proposals as a threat to free speech. Six Korean portals and search engines have teamed up to oppose the proposed law. ®

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