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Five journalists assaulted by drunken youths in Sucre; RSF objects to president's comments about the press

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF firmly condemns attacks on five journalists on 9 November 2007 by opponents of a constituent assembly sitting in Sucre. Claims by President Evo Morales in the past few days that "the media" are systematically opposing his government are all the more regrettable, the organisation noted, as the victims of the violence are employed by both state and privately-owned media.

"We have written to President Morales several times to ask him to begin a real dialogue with the press and to defuse the political tension to which the country's journalists have become hostage," the press freedom organisation said. "His statements before and after this latest attack on five journalists in Sucre have just fueled the tension."

RSF added: "These statements are all the more surprising as all the media - state and private, pro-government and opposition - are the victims of violence, which in the most recent case was the work of radical opposition groups. Media independence and the safety of journalists should not be affected by ideology. We reiterate our call for dialogue and we are ready to take part."

Sucre is the constitutional capital and seat of a constituent assembly, with no absolute majority, to which President Morales has given the job of drafting a new constitution. The violence against the journalists on 9 November came shortly after an attack on parliamentary representatives of the ruling Movement to Socialism (Movimiento hacial el Socialismo, MAS) party.

The five journalists - Gonzálo Rodríguez of the privately owned television station ATB and his cameraman Damian Hidalgo, Eduardo Coria of the public radio station Patria Nueva, Pavel Alarcón of the website and Johnnatan Condori, reporter with the educational radio network Aclo-Erbol - were attacked by a group of inebriated youths after being identified as "provincial media journalists" by an employee of the municipal government, which is opposed to the central government in La Paz.

Coria was kicked and punched by six youths suspected of belonging to the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista, a radical pro-autonomy group based in the eastern province of Santa Cruz. Another group of youths attacked Rodríguez and his cameraman and tried to take their equipment. Shortly thereafter, fellow journalists found themselves trapped inside the Junín school, the headquarters of the constituent assembly's administrative services.

When he inaugurated a community radio station in the southern city of Potosí two days earlier, President Morales was very critical of media "owned by a minority opposition" and journalists "whose jobs are guaranteed" so that they can attack his government.

Renán Estenssoro, the president of the La Paz Journalists' Association (APLP), told RSF: "We Bolivian journalists do not sell out . . . We talked to President Evo Morales six months ago. He thinks that all the media and all the journalists oppose the government. He lumps us altogether and this is not fair." He added that he saw no point, under the current circumstances, in requesting a new meeting with Morales.

President Morales reiterated his criticism of the Bolivian press at the end of an Ibero-American Summit in the Chilean capital of Santiago on 10 November.

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