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Municipal government in Santa Fe province closes critical newspaper's printing press

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders calls for the reopening of the regional daily "El Observador"'s printing press, which was closed without warning by the municipal authorities in San Lorenzo, in the east-central province of Santa Fe, on 25 July 2007 on the grounds that it lacked the necessary authorisation. The organisation is convinced this was just a pretext.

"The municipal authorities acted in an arbitrary manner in using an alleged 'lack of authorisation' while many other local companies are in a similar administrative situation and have never been prevented from functioning," the press freedom organisation said.

"The dispute between 'El Observador' and San Lorenzo mayor Mónica de la Quintana is well known and this is not the first time the city hall has targeted a newspaper," Reporters Without Borders added. "The case has been referred to the courts, which should quash this closure order and award the newspaper damages."

City official Ariel Santacruz went to the printing press accompanied by police on the morning of 25 July, asked to see its permit, and then placed a seal over the entrance without first writing an official report. The authorities claimed that the purpose of the visit was simply to establish whether the printing press was operating with the "required permits." The newspaper has not been published since then.

"El Observador" owner and publisher Andrés Sharetta attributed the closure to the newspaper's editorial line and, in particular, its criticism of the mayor, who is a member of the Frente para la Victoria (FV), a movement launched by President Néstor Kirchner that suffered a defeat in the 1 July provincial elections.

Three municipal councillors from the bloc that controls the city hall wrote to city council official Leonardo Raimundo on 17 July criticising the "misnamed" "El Observador" and its journalists and accusing them of "tending to sow doubt about the conduct of public affairs by defamation and by using and abusing attacks, insults and bad faith." After receiving the letter, Raimundo asked municipal employees to check whether the newspaper had all the necessary commercial permits.

Sharreta has asked a San Lorenzo court to rescind the closure.

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