ISLAMABAD  – Pakistan’s telecommunications regulators shut down Twitter for about eight hours Sunday because the social networking site would not remove content the government found objectionable to Muslims, but the prime minister stepped in to reverse the ban, reported Washington Post quoting officials as saying.

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The Internet censorship caught by surprise some officials, lawmakers and politicians who regularly use Twitter. Interior Minister Rehman Malik insisted that Twitter had not been blocked, but later realised it was.

Malik, a regular Twitter user, told the Post on Sunday evening that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ordered Information Technology Ministry to restore access to the site.

The offensive tweets apparently referenced a competition on Facebook that Muslims worldwide have denounced for encouraging blasphemy. Lahore High Court had ordered the Facebook page blocked two years ago when the competition was launched. It was not immediately clear who in the government directed that the site be blocked on Sunday afternoon, but “this is not a simple decision, it is a high-level decision,” said PTA Chairman M Yaseen.

Some Twitter users immediately downloaded software to circumvent the ban, while others were able to tweet via smartphones. “As a citizen of Pakistan and as a former journalist I condemn the blocking of Twitter. Freedom of speech is an inviolable right,” tweeted Farahnaz Ispahani, a member of Parliament and media advisor to President Asif Ali Zardari.

In negotiations with Pakistani officials, Facebook agreed to continue to prevent the controversial page from being accessed in Pakistan, but Yaseen said Twitter would not cooperate. That led to a directive from the Ministry of Information and Technology that ordered telecom providers to block Twitter access in the country.