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Georgia8 November 2007

Government suspends news programmes, closes two TV stations after declaring emergency

(GIF) Reporters Without Borders voiced “deep concern” today about yesterday’s declaration of a 15-day state of emergency, in which one of the first measures taken by the authorities was to suspend all the news programmes of the privately-owned TV stations and to close two stations that broadcast footage of the security forces violently dispersing demonstrators in the capital.

“The Georgian population has the right to be informed about what is happening in the country,” the press freedom organisation said. “We call on the authorities to reverse this decision and to allow journalists to resume working normally at once.”

Claiming he had evidence that Russia was fueling unrest, President Mikhail Saakashvili declared the state of emergency yesterday, on the sixth day of opposition demonstrations calling for his resignation and parliamentary elections. Development minister Georgy Arveladze announced the suspension of all news programmes by independent TV stations. The state broadcaster, GPB, is now the only TV station allowed to give news.

Imedi, the most popular of the three leading commercial TV stations, went off the air at 8:50 p.m. yesterday, shortly after Giorgi Targamadze, the head of its current affairs programmes, reported live that special forces had just entered the TV station. Employees were forced to lie on the floor and their mobile phones were seized (and in some cases, smashed). The police also threatened some employees by putting guns to their heads. Kavkazia, another privately-owned TV station based in Tbilisi, went off the air a few minutes later. Both had broadcast footage of riot police using force to disperse protesters.

Tbilisi mayor Giggi Ugalava announced that directives would be sent to every news media today.

The health ministry reported at 11 a.m. that more that 500 people had needed medical attention as a result of yesterday’s intervention by the police. About 100 are still hospitalised. Large scale demonstrations began in Tbilisi on 2 November.

The crisis has its origin in the arrest of former defence minister Irakli Okruashvili on 27 September after he accused Saakashvili of wanting to eliminate businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili, who controls Imedi. Okruashvili retracted after he was arrested and charged with corruption. Following his release on 6 million dollars in bail, he gave an interview from Munich to Imedi on 5 November in which he reaffirmed his allegations.

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