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BlackBerry services back online in Saudi despite ban
BlackBerry users in Saudi Arabia say their messaging services went down only briefly on Friday despite a ban, as Arab states battle between security concerns and business interests linked to the smartphone.

Users in the highly security-conscious Gulf state with a rigid Islamic social code said the service was interrupted at around 0930 GMT, but four hours later they were back online.

But employees of mobile phone providers STC and Mobily, asking not to be named, told media their companies had not been officially notified of a ban or of its timing.

The Saudi telecommunications authority announced on Tuesday that it had ordered the country's three providers to block key BlackBerry services or face a 1.3-mn-dollar fine as of August 6. But a time was not specified.

The regulator said "the way BlackBerry services are provided currently does not meet the regulatory criteria of the commission and the licensing conditions," in a statement carried by Saudi Arabia's official news agency SPA.

BlackBerry's encrypted emails and data are stored on servers in Canada, the headquarters of its maker Research in Motion, meaning that third parties such as intelligence agencies cannot monitor communications.

Subscribers of the popular smartphone number around 700,000 in Saudi Arabia, where the Internet service is strictly censored.

The BlackBerry controversy has divided ranks in the Arab world.

While Lebanon said no decision had yet been taken, and Oman and Bahrain said they would not follow the example of their Gulf neighbours, the cost of the smartphone fell in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ahead of a similar ban.

The brief Saudi shutdown came five days after the UAE announced it would also cut off the messenger, email and web browsing services of the BlackBerry on October 11 over security concerns.

Abu Dhabi's The National newspaper said retailers are reducing the price of the BlackBerry as customers opt for other smartphones, with discounts of up to 15 percent.

As the United States stepped into the growing row, Lebanon on Thursday became the latest country in the Middle East to voice security fears over the hand-held devices.
Lebanon's telecommunications regulator said Beirut would assess security concerns about the smartphones after the arrest of several telecoms employees suspected of spying for Israel.

But on Friday, it said no decision had yet been reached.

In Kuwait, a VIVA Telecom spokesman said: "Until now we were not given any orders on new means of dealing with BlackBerry and the company will not block any of those devices' services."

Defending its free market policies, Oman's regulatory authority said the sultanate has no plans to join the ban, in a statement carried by the Oman Daily newspaper.

"The authority considers these services as part of the free market philosophy in the telecommunications sector," it said.

Bahrain also said it had no plans to suspend BlackBerry services, used by 77,000 subscribers in the country, saying it wanted to remain a leader in the field of telecommunications, especially for business users.

"The kingdom has chosen to liberalise the telecoms sector," said Sheikh Ahmad bin Atiyatullah al-Khalifa, minister in charge of telecommunications. Bahrain aimed to "maintain its position as regional leader in this sector."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday that Washington would soon hold talks with the UAE and other countries about the issue.

"We are taking time to consult and analyse the full the range of interests and issues at stake because we know that there is a legitimate security concern," Clinton said.

However, she also recognised a "legitimate right of free use and access."
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