Must read: Chinese customers blocked from iTunes; Tibet album suspected

BEIJING - Customers in China of Apple Inc.'s iTunes online music store were unable to download songs this week, and an activist group said Beijing was trying to block access to a new Tibet-themed album.

In Internet forums, iTunes users complained they had been unable to download music since Monday. That was a day after the Art of Peace Foundation announced the release of 'Songs for Tibet,' with music by Sting, Alanis Morissette, Garbage and others, and a 15-minute talk by the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader.

Michael Wohl, executive director of the New York City-based group, said he believed the album was the reason for the iTunes interruption, though he had no proof.

'We issued a release saying that over 40 (Olympic) athletes downloaded the album in an act of solidarity, and that's what triggered it. Then everything got blocked,' Wohl said by phone.

Beijing encourages Internet use for education and business use but tries to block access to foreign sites run by dissidents and human rights and Tibet activists.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which regulates Internet use, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Public Security, who would give only her surname, Wang, said she had no information.

Apple, based in Cupertino, Calif., acknowledged that customers were having trouble.

'We are aware of the logon problems but we have no comment at the moment,' said Huang Yuna, an Apple spokeswoman in Beijing. She declined to say how many customers were believed to be affected.

Blocked iTunes users poured out their frustration on Internet bulletin boards.

'It seems like suspending iTunes is punishment for iTunes, but really it doesn't hurt iTunes, it hurts us,' said a note on macfans.com.cn, a Chinese site for Apple users.