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Bolivia27 March 2008

Anger as rioters stone studios of public TV and radio stations during a demonstration in Sucre

Reporters Without Borders today condemned attacks by gangs of hooded rioters who stoned the premises of public radio Patria Nueva and Canal 7 Televisión Bolivia in the country’s constitutional capital, Sucre on 25 March.

The two media were targeted by demonstrators opposed to President Evo Morales, protesting at the recent appointment by the La Paz government of interim prefect, Ariel Iriarte, to the department of Chuquisaca, southern Bolivia.

Some 150 youths, most of them hooded, hurled sticks of dynamite at the Prefecture building, vandalised offices and threatening officials, before turning their violence against Patria Nueva and Canal 7 Televisión Bolivia, which they accuse of campaigning for a new constitution and against the region’s claim for autonomy.

Government head of communications, Gastón Nuñez, told Agence France-Presse that Patria Nueva had been able to resume broadcasting unlike Canal 7 Televisión Bolivia, which is still off air because of serious damage to broadcast equipment.

“We add our protest to that of the Association of La Paz journalists (APLP) against these unacceptable acts of vandalism which interrupted programmes on Patria Nueva and Canal 7 Televisión Bolivia”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

“Whether a media is publicly or privately-owned, is pro-government or pro-opposition, it should not have to pay the price of political score-settling, particularly when it turns violent. We hope that an investigation will quickly find out who was responsible for these attacks, which are also an assault on pluralism of opinion.

“In this politically-charged climate we urge all organisations of every tendency to respect the work of journalists,” Reporters Without Borders concluded.

The post of prefect had been vacant since the resignation in November of David Sánchez, supporter of a government faced with strong local demands for autonomy. Ariel Iriarte has been appointed provisionally ahead of elections due on 29 June 2008.

Political instability in the country, worsened by deep divisions over the constitutional process, was behind numerous attacks on the media in 2007, particularly in departments governed by the opposition.

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