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(2nd LD) S. Korea blocks direct access to N. Korea's Twitter page
By Sam Kim
SEOUL, Aug. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Thursday blocked its direct access to North Korea's account on the highly popular microblogging service, Twitter, in an apparent effort to stem the rapid increase of subscriptions by its nationals.

   A page that warns of illegal material popped up when an attempt to access was made. A similar page shows up if one tries to enter Web pages showing North Korea's propaganda material.File photo
The block is seen as a confirmation that Seoul considers the North Korean Twitter page as being related to Pyongyang. A call asking for comment from an Internet watchdog official was not immediately returned. Seoul has been reluctant to conclude that North Korea is behind the account that opened last week.

   At least 8,700 subscribers were "following" the North Korean Twitter account when the page was last accessed earlier Thursday. It was a whopping increase from last week when the account had no followers for days until Yonhap News Agency reported on it.

   South Korea allows its nationals to view online propaganda material posted by North Korea if they gain government clearance. South Korean authorities had been blocking Web pages that could be accessed through links posted on the North's Twitter account.

   Earlier in the day, an official at the South's Korea Communications Commission, a watchdog, said North Korea was altering the online addresses of the pages to bypass Seoul's block.

   North Korea appears to be expanding its propaganda warfare as South Korea and the United States step up their pressure on Pyongyang to admit to its wrongdoing and open up for dialogue.

   Last month, Pyongyang opened an account with the global video-sharing site YouTube and started uploading clips that ridicule senior officials in Seoul and Washington.

   On Wednesday, South Korea warned its citizens that it may be considered illegal to interact with the North Korean Twitter account, apparently calling on them to refrain from reposting, or "retweeting," the messages.

   Observers said Seoul may be overreacting.

   The North Korean Twitter Web page "is more amusing than anything else," said Michael Breen, author of "The Koreans" who runs a communications consulting firm in Seoul. "The government here needs to lighten up and give its own people access and stop being afraid of the North Korean propaganda."

   "Twitter is a symbol of information technology. The South should consider ways to open the North through channels like Twitter rather than block them," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

   South and North Korea remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty. Their relations are at one of the worst points in history following the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March blamed on Pyongyang. The North denies involvement.