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Political camps exact reprisals on their critics

Attacks on the media have ratcheted up in Côte d'Ivoire with a media employee killed as supporters of both incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara target partisan media outlets and journalists, say the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The struggle for power threatens to lead to a full blown civil war.

On 28 February, Marcel Legré, a printing press employee of La Refondation, which publishes pro-Gbagbo paper "Notre Voie", was dragged from his home in Koumassi by machete-wielding militants and violently attacked to death, report the members. According to the 1 March issue of "Notre Voie", Legré was murdered because he worked for La Refondation.

The same day, nine pro-Ouattara newspapers indefinitely suspended publications citing "threats and harassment" from the Gbagbo administration and security forces, say the members.

The development followed Friday's decision by the Gbagbo-controlled National Press Council, the official print media regulator, to suspend the pro-Ouattara daily "Le Nouveau Réveil", for a week over its 22 February issue, which alleged that Gbagbo loyalists had used rocket-propelled grenades against Ouattara supporters during a demonstration the day before. The council said graphic photos of dead protesters published in the paper amounted to "justifying violence and incitement to revolt," says CPJ.

The council also slapped fines of 1 to 2 million CFA Francs (US$2,100 to $4,200) on pro-Ouattara dailies "Le Patriote", "Nord-Sud" and "Le Jour Plus" for publishing the same photos, say the members.

Since Gbagbo refused to cede power to Ouattara, whom international observers recognised as having won the November 2010 presidential election, Gbagbo's forces have targeted real and perceived supporters of Ouattara, using excessive and often lethal force against largely peaceful demonstrators, says Human Rights Watch. The tense political and military standoff could lead to another civil war, like the one that split the country in a rebel-held north and a government-controlled south in 2002.

In another incident, on 27 February, armed men destroyed a broadcast station housing a transmitter of the Gbagbo-controlled state Radiodiffusion Télévision Ivoirienne (RTI), killing a technician and two others.

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