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WASHINGTON, May 22 (Reuters) - The United States criticized Cuban censorship on Thursday after Cubans were blocked from an independent website that is challenging the state monopoly on news on the island.
Dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez started publishing 14ymedio.com on Wednesday, but would-be readers were redirected to another site that is highly critical of her, reflecting the official line.
Sanchez's site remained blocked to the small minority of Cubans with internet access on Thursday, though it was accessible outside Cuba.
The U.S. State Department stopped short of directly blaming Cuba, referring instead to media reports that the government blocked the site, but it took advantage of the incident to denounce Cuban censorship.
"The Cuban government continues to limit fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and of the press, freedom of assembly, and the free flow of information to, from, and within the island," a State Department spokesperson said.
"Cubans deserve the right to freely express themselves and the right to petition their government."
Cuba rejects such U.S. criticism as hypocritical intervention in its affairs.
A Cuban government spokesman said he was unaware who was blocking Sanchez's site in Cuba, suggesting it might be the U.S. government. He also declined to make available a representative from Etecsa, the state communications monopoly and Cuba's internet service provider.
Cuba has tolerated greater criticism in recent years but not yet from a website produced on the island as professional-looking as 14ymedio.com.
From her Twitter account on Wednesday, Sanchez blamed the Cuban government, but on Thursday the website took a more sarcastic approach.
"It doesn't take much imagination to discover who were the aggressors, but, as we don't have proof, we'll just conjecture that we're talking about someone who has the technological resources ... and the antagonism," the website said in an editorial.
"Blocking 14ymedio could become a failed strategy if the goal is to silence us. Nothing is more attractive than that which is forbidden."
Since starting a blog on daily life and politics in Cuba seven years ago, Sanchez has rattled the Cuban establishment and won prestigious media awards in the United States and Europe.
The Cuban government has frequently tried discredit her as a well-paid propagandist doing the bidding of the U.S. government. (Reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington and Daniel Trotta in Havana; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)