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Internet

Google urges North Korea to introduce Internet freedom

Google chairman Eric Schmidt has called on North Korea to allow more Internet freedom, saying it was vital for the country’s development. Schmidt was part of a delegation that visited Pyongyang despite US criticism.

Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt spoke to reporters in Beijing on Thursday after his return from a trip to the North Korean capital Pyongyang, which he insisted had been private and focused solely on talks about a free and open Internet.

"The technology in North Korea is very limited," Schmidt said, pointing to the communist country's 3G cellphone network, which serves about one million phones. It is run by Egypt's Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding SAE  that does not support the Internet.

In North Korea access to the Internet is not available to the general population of 24 million people, but only to government, military officials and as universities, Schmidt explained.

"They have to make it possible for people to use the Internet", Schmidt said in Beijing. "Or they will remain behind."

Schmidt was travelling as part of a group described by North Korean state media as "Google delegation." It was led by the former US ambassador to the United Nations and former Governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson. 

The group did not meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, but Richardson spoke of a "series of very frank discussions" with officials on "the current level of tension in the peninsula."

Richardson has been to North Korea a number of times, during his previous visit in 2010 he met with officials to talk about the country's controversial nuclear program. This time he tried to negotiate the release of Kenneth Bae, but seems to have made no tangible progress. Bae, a 44-year old American of Korean descent, was arrested in November after entering the country as a tourist and has since been held for committing a crime against the state.

The US State Department has voiced concern about Richardson's latest trip, saying it was ill-timed.

It came as the United States, South Korea, Japan and European countries are pushing the United Nations to expand sanctions on North Korea in response to the country's launch of a long-range rocket on December 12, which Pyongyang claims was part of a program to put a scientific satellite into orbit.

rg/kms (AFP, AP)