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India 10 May 2007

Three newspaper employees killed in arson attack in Tamil Nadu state

Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today at the death of three employees of the Tamil newspaper Dinakaran in an arson attack yesterday on its offices in Madurai, in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu, by supporters of M.K. Azhagiri, one of the sons of Tamil Nadu chief minister K. Karunanidhi, who were angry about the publication of poll tipping another son as his likeliest successor.

More than 30 suspects have been arrested, including the husband of Madurai’s mayor, but the press freedom organisation said it hoped the investigation would not stop there and called on the authorities to identify and punish those who were behind the attack.

“The nepotism and political feudalism reigning in certain Indian states leads to this kind of violence against the press,” Reporters Without Borders said, urging the police to question M.K. Azhagiri immediately.

Hundreds of supporters of M.K. Azhagiri, one of the leaders of the state’s ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam (DMK) party, attacked Dinakaran in broad daylight, setting fire to the building that houses it and two other news organisations, Sun TV and the newspaper Tamil Murasu. One of the region’s most popular Tamil-language dailies, Dinakaran is part of the Sun press group, owned by a relative of the chief minister.

The victims were Vinod Kumar, 23, and G. Gopinath, 25, two engineers who maintained the newspaper’s computers, and K. Muthuramalingam, the building’s caretaker. Kumar and Gopinath died of smoke inhalation after going into the building to try to save the computers.

A few hours before the arson attack, the mob attacked the premises of a cable TV station and set fire to copies of Dinakaran in a city square.

Journalists have staged demonstrations in several Indian cities in protest against the attack and to demand the resignation of DMK officials.

The arrests of more than 30 people, including the husband of the DMK mayor, were carried out yesterday and today by the Tamil Nadu police. The federal police meanwhile will be asked to carry out its own investigation.

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