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Access to Google services within China returns

BEIJING (Reuters) - Users in China were able to access online services for Google Inc on Thursday, after more than a month of severe disruption that almost completely blocked people from using features such as its search, maps and e-mail functions.

The Google disruption began in the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the government's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators around Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

China maintains tight control over the Internet, nipping in the bud any signs of dissent or challenges to the ruling Communist Party's leadership.

Users told Reuters they could use Google Maps and access the Google.com search engine, which redirects to a Hong Kong version of the website. Reuters journalists were able to replicate this.

Google declined to provide immediate comment.

China-based anti-censorship group GreatFire.org also reported that Google services appeared to be accessible within China.

"I'm not sure if it's a temporary glitch or a change of policy," said a member of the group who used a pseudonym. "If Google indeed is unblocked, it's a big victory for free speech."

The member added that it was only a positive development if Google continued to use HTTPS, a form of encryption for websites that ensures individual search phrases cannot be censored within China. Currently the search engine uses HTTPS.

"If Google were to back down and disable HTTPS-by-default for Chinese users it would be a victory for the censorship authorities," the member said.

Other online services are also experiencing disruption in China, which began last week. These include South Korean Naver Corp's Line and KakaoTalk, owned by South Korea's Kakao Corp, both mobile messaging apps.

Disruptions have also been affecting Yahoo Inc's photo-sharing site, Flickr, and Microsoft Corp's OneDrive cloud storage platform.

Other overseas online services, such as social networks Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc, and Google-owned video site YouTube, have been blocked in China for years.

(Reporting by Paul Carsten and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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