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Cote d’Ivoire29 November 2006

President takes control of state broadcaster by replacing independent director with supporter

Reporters Without Borders said it was appalled by President Laurent Gbagbo’s move to reassert control over the state media, yesterday firing Kébé Yacouba as head of the public broadcaster, RadioTélévision Ivoirienne (RTI), and replacing him by Brou Amessan, who presented the news when Gbagbo’s “Young Patriots” briefly took over RTI in January.

“The aim of this new move is to recover control of state radio and television, a powerful tool of communication,” the press freedom organisation said. “Only this time, instead of sending his ‘Young Patriots’ to do the dirty work, the president’s office has carried out a more subtle kind of coup on behalf of his supporters.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “Today the risk is too great too allow powerful war media to reemerge in a country that could be set ablaze by the least spark. Before the situation degenerates again, the UN must force President Gbagbo to respect the independence of RTI and Fraternité Matin, which is indispensable.”

RTI’s decision to read out a communiqué from Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny on 27 November was called “seditious” by President Gbagbo. The communiqué said there was an “urgent need to stay the implementation” of decrees under which senior officials who had been suspended for their role in toxic waste dumping in Abidjan were reappointed to their posts.

Presidential spokesman Désiré Tagro announced at noon yesterday that Yacouba had been dismissed as RTI director general and the RTI board had been disbanded. A statement read out by Tagro said: “The president views it as a serious act of misconduct by the entire management of RTI, the only state broadcast media, to have allowed the dissemination of a communiqué that was at the very least seditious, one calling for the non-implementation of signed decrees and insidiously announcing serious disturbances of the peace.”

Two days before, on 26 November, President Gbagbo ordered the dismissal of the head of the government daily Fraternité Matin, one of Abidjan’s very few neutral newspapers, and the disbanding of its board.

The president’s “Young Patriots” overran the RTI building in November 2004 and again in January 2006 in order to seize control of its programming and to broadcast appeals for insurrection and violence that had dramatic consequences on Abidjan’s streets.

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