BEIJING-Chinese tech companies have prevented social media users from changing profile pictures and user names amid heightened security as a key Communist Party conclave opened Wednesday in Beijing.

The move hit users of the ubiquitous Chinese social media platforms WeChat, QQ, Weibo and even Alibaba’s payment platform Alipay, though it appeared only to affect those with accounts registered on the mainland. “WeChat is undertaking system maintenance. From today until the end of the month, users will temporarily be unable to change their profile picture, nickname and tagline,” the app, run by internet behemoth Tencent, announced Tuesday.

Chinese authorities have kicked both online and offline security into high gear for the week-long, twice-a-decade party Congress that will reshuffle top leadership positions.

The ban on profile picture updates could be a bid to avoid the kind of defiance seen during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Umbrella Revolution in 2014, when Facebook users changed their profile pictures to yellow ribbons symbolising universal suffrage. Websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and a slew of foreign media have been blocked for years. In recent weeks the service of messaging app WhatsApp - which provides an end-to-end encryption function unlikely to please censors - was also severely disrupted.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has overseen a clampdown on internet freedoms since he came to power in 2012, tightening censorship in a country where young people are avid users of social media.

In his opening speech to some 2,300 congress delegates gathered in the cavernous Great Hall of the People, Xi said the party should “provide more and better online content and put in place a system for integrated internet management to ensure a clean cyberspace.”

Complaints about extreme over-crowding in the Beijing metro, subject to extra security checks during the congress, were scrubbed and photos of commuters crammed like sardines were deleted, according to Free Weibo, a website that archives items from social media that have been removed.

China enacted a controversial new cybersecurity law earlier this year.

Platforms must now verify users’ true identity before allowing them to post online, with certain content banned outright, including anything that damages “national honour”, “disturbs economic or social order” or is aimed at “overthrowing the socialist system”.

Last month, Chinese internet regulators slapped “maximum” fines on Tencent and Baidu, China’s Google-equivalent, for allowing the publication of such banned material.

There was not a single critical comment to be found on Weibo about Xi’s more than three hour-long speech Wednesday.

“The chairman spoke very well and hopes our country can be thriving and prosperous. He will lead the Chinese people to glory,” one user wrote.




Delhi acts against pollution menace (e)



India’s capital is enacting a plan to combat hazardous smog, as air pollution in Delhi hits “very severe” levels.

The plan, which includes traffic restrictions and the shutdown of a major power plant, was announced after Delhi saw severe pollution last year.

The measures, which were ordered by a Supreme Court mandated panel, come days before the Hindu festival of Diwali.

The court has already banned the sale and distribution of fireworks in Delhi ahead of the festival of Diwali.

Diwali, the most important Hindu festival in north India, celebrates the victory of good over evil.

However in the last few years, celebrations have seen air pollution rise to hazardous levels after many firecrackers were set off.

The winter months in Delhi already see high pollution levels due to farmers in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana burning stubble to clear their fields, and the burning of rubbish in the city.

These are some of the major changes that have come into effect:

The Badarpur power plant, located in south Delhi, will be closed until March 2018 before permanently shutting down in July 2018.

According to a 2015 study by the Centre for Science and Environment, it is the most polluting power plant in India.

The plant contributed just 8% of the city’s electric power but produced more than 80% of Delhi’s particulate matter pollution from the energy sector.

It was shut down temporarily last November to alleviate air quality during the Delhi smog but was reopened in March this year.

Officials told reporters that the plant was supposed to close on 15 October, but that was delayed as it was supplying power to the stadium hosting Fifa under-17 World Cup matches in Delhi.

The panel will also monitor emissions from power plants located close to the city.

Vehicular emission is one of the main reasons for air pollution in Delhi, and there have also been past efforts to discourage people from using private cars.

The panel has said that if air pollution worsens further, parking rates inside the city will see a fourfold increase. It currently costs about 20 rupees an hour ($0.30; £0.20) to use municipal car parks.

It may also bring back a car rationing scheme which will see cars with even and odd number plates only being allowed on alternate days.

The panel has said it will also look at increasing the frequency of the city’s metro trains and buses.

Diesel generators are often utilised by private homeowners and businesses in an effort to combat Delhi’s often erratic power supply.

Many of them are, however, poorly maintained which causes them to emit large amounts of smoke and fumes.

The measure, which will be in place until March, is likely to have an impact on weddings, which often use generators to power lights and music for celebration.

Several small business owners have told reporters that they are unhappy with the decision.