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Cote d’Ivoire5 November 2004

A black day for free expression in Abidjan

Reporters Without Borders said it was "outraged and sickened" by a crackdown yesterday on the opposition press in Ivory Coast that is coinciding with a sharp deterioration in the political and military climate and attacks by pro-government forces on former rebels.

"Yesterday was a black day for free expression in Ivory coast and it was the result of a concerted operation aimed a silencing dissident voices in Abidjan," the organisation said.

"The authorities must understand that politically-motivated raids, carried out by loyalist militia and sanctioned by the armed forces, are not only illegal but also unacceptable for a government that calls itself democratic," Reporters Without Borders continued. "As we have said over and again, President Laurent Gbagbo must not allow armed civilians to install a reign of terror in Abidjan."

Reporters Without Borders urged international organisations and countries that still have influence in Ivory Coast to do everything possible to get the authorities to stop the current crackdown, which comes against a backdrop of political violence in which the media are viewed as military targets.

"We are confident that the United Nations, which is a guarantor of the Accra accords, will intercede forcefully as the gagging of the opposition press is always a harbinger of more violence," the press freedom organisation said.

In yesterday’s violence, the offices of the dailies 24 Heures and Le Patriote (a newspaper that supports Alassane Ouattara’s party, the RDR), were ransacked and torched in the afternoon by groups of pro-government "Young Patriots." All of the equipment at the Nouveau Réveil (a daily that supports former president Henri Konan Bédié’s party, the PDCI-RDA) was wrecked by about 200 civilians armed with iron bars and clubs and wearing the T-shirts of the hardline wing of President Gbagbo’s party, the FPI.

A military source told the Agence France-Presse bureau in Abidjan in the evening that distribution of daily newspapers that support the opposition and former rebels had been banned in pro-government areas. "These protective measures against the pro-rebel newspapers have been taken to accompany the movements on the ground," the source said.

The newspapers affected were Le Patriote, Le Libéral, Le Front, Le Nouveau Réveil, Jour Plus and 24 Heures, which are all accused of "defending the rebellion." The ban was imposed as air raids were carried out by the Ivorian armed forces against former rebel positions in the central city of Bouaké and in the north.

Local re-transmission of Radio France Internationale (RFI), the BBC World Service and Africa N°1 on FM frequencies has been cut since the night of 3 November when a commando sabotaged their joint relay installations.

Reporters Without Borders had already voiced concern on 27 October about a growing campaign of censorship, intimidation and violence against opposition newspapers in Ivory Coast following reports of raids by Ivorian youth groups on street vendors in Abidjan.

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