China has arrested six people and shut down 16 websites for spreading rumours that the military was preparing to launch a coup.
The arrests are a sign of the ruling communist party's (CCP) extreme nervousness in the wake of an extraordinary few weeks in which an unusually public power struggle amongst the party elite has seen the one-time politburo contender Bo Xilai deposed.
Rumours that a coup was imminent began spreading after Mr Bo was removed from his position as CCP chief of the southwestern city of Chongqing two weeks ago. Posts on microblogs claimed that armoured personnel carriers and tanks had been seen on the streets of Beijing.
China's state news agency Xinhua reported late on Friday that six people are under arrest for "fabricating or disseminating online rumours".
Sixteen websites have been closed for posting reports of "military vehicles entering Beijing and something wrong going on in Beijing". An unknown number of people were "admonished and educated" for their part in spreading the rumours, according to police in Beijing.
"The rumours have "caused a very bad effect on the public," said a spokesman for the State internet Information Office, while the websites were shut down for not acting to stop their spread. Two of China's most popular microblogging sites, weibo.com and qq.com, were also "criticised and punished accordingly" for their failure to prevent the rumours circulating said the spokesman.
Mr Bo's spectacular fall from grace at a time when he was being tipped for a place on the all-powerful nine man politburo in the forthcoming October reshuffle of the CCP leadership has created feverish speculation in China.
Anonymous sources continue to insist that Mr Bo's removal from his post is connected to the death of the British businessman Neil Heywood, who was found dead in his hotel room in Chongqing last November.
Those sources claim that the old Harrovian had business dealings with Mr Bo's wife Gu Kailai and that Wang Lijun, the former police chief of Chongqing, had told Mr Bo that he believed Mr Heywood's death was suspicious. It was Mr Wang's attempt to seek asylum in the US consulate in Chongqing in February and subsequent arrest that precipitated Mr Bo's downfall.
Mr Heywood's family however say that the 41-year-old chain smoker died of natural causes. Suspicions remain too that Mr Bo is the target of a smear campaign from rivals in the CCP unhappy at his high public profile and position as the leader of the party's leftist faction.