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Anti-government protestors vandalise two public broadcasters; one off-air due to damage

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF condemns the attacks by gangs of hooded rioters who, on 25 March 2008, stoned the premises of the public radio station Patria Nueva and of the public television channel Canal 7 Televisión Bolivia, both located in the country's constitutional capital, Sucre.

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

Some 150 youths, most of them hooded, ignited sticks of dynamite outside the Prefecture building and vandalised offices and threatened officials before turning their violence against Patria Nueva and Canal 7 Televisión Bolivia. They accuse both media outlets of campaigning in favour of the new Constitution and against the region's claim for autonomy.

Government head of communications, Gastón Nuñez, told Agence France-Presse that Patria Nueva was able to resume broadcasting, while Canal 7 Televisión Bolivia is still off-air due to the serious damage inflicted on its broadcasting 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", RSF said.

"Whether a media outlet 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 reveal 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," RSF concluded.

The post of prefect had been vacant since the resignation in December 2007 of David Sánchez, supporter of a government confronted with strong local demands for autonomy. Iriarte has been appointed provisionally ahead of elections planned for 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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