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



    MONTREAL, Nov. 8 /CNW Telbec/ - 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.




For further information:

For further information: Emily Jacquard, secretary general, Reporters
Without Borders Canada, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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