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Burma 20 May 2005

Government imposes news blackout on bombings, gives low casualty figures

Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association today condemned the news blackout imposed by the authorities on coverage of three bomb blasts that took place almost simultaneously in two supermarkets and a busy convention centre in Rangoon on 7 May.

"Once again the Burmese junta has deprived the public of access to the information it needs," the two organizations said. "It is unacceptable that the authorities should prevent journalists from covering such major occurrences."

According to the authorities, 19 people were killed and 160 were injured in the explosions. But these figures are way below those given by witnesses and diplomatic sources, who estimate that at least 40 people died and 200 were injured.

A newspaper editor told the two organizations that no reporters were allowed to visit hospitals in the capital to seek more accurate casualty figures. The police also denied journalists access to Yay-Way cemetery, one of the biggest in Rangoon. "Not only were we not allowed to do any investigative work, but we were also forced to publish nothing but the statements issued by the authorities," the editor said.

In an even more ridiculous move, the authorities banned newspapers from putting the date and cause of death in death announcements. At the same time, the death announcements and obituary page on the government website Myanma Alin has been inaccessible since the bombings.

The information minister, Gen. Kyaw San, and the interior minister, Gen. Maung Oo, were both extremely evasive when questioned about the explosions by foreign journalists at a news conference on 15 May.




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