The Chinese government will not approve licences for new internet cafes this year as part of a move intended to strengthen government control over the popular internet access points.

"The number of internet bars across the country will not increase during 2007," said the directive (in Chinese), entitled "Notice regarding stricter management of internet cafes and online games."

The construction of internet cafes that have already received approval from the government must be completed by 30 June, it said.

The directive was approved by 14 government agencies, including the Ministry of Information Industry, Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Finance. Besides seeking to restrict the number of internet cafes, the directive reiterated the government's intention to shut down unlicensed internet cafe operators.

Internet cafes are popular among Chinese internet users, including young people who may spend hours at the cafes downloading music, watching movies or playing online games.