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RSF urges supporters of political factions to refrain from turning media into hostages

(RSF/IFEX) - 10 December 2010 - Reporters Without Borders is worried about the dangers for Haitian and foreign journalists from the rioting that has shaken the country since the widely disputed results of the general elections were announced on 7 December.

Although the media have so far been largely spared, we urge the supporters of the various parties and alliances to refrain from turning the media into hostages of their political rivalry. We have been concerned about several recent incidents involving journalists and we appeal for calm and for talks.

Many of the angry protests have been staged by the supporters of singer and presidential candidate Michel Martelly, who - according to the official results - was narrowly squeezed out of the second round run-off by Jude Celestin of the INITE alliance, the candidate backed by outgoing President René Préval. Although accused of rigging the elections, Celestin is far behind the front-runner, former First Lady Mirlande Manigat.

Ever since the announcement of the results, which have also been questioned by Haiti's donors, supporters of the eliminated candidates have been expressing their anger by barricading streets with burning tyres. Radio Lebon FM, a local radio station based in the southwestern city of Les Cayes, was ransacked on the evening of 7 December, but it appears this was because its owner, Fritz Carlos Lebon, is an INITE senate candidate.

Amid an increase in violence yesterday morning, Esther Dorestal of privately-owned Radio Métropole was stopped and threatened by young Martelly supporters in Port-au-Prince as she was travelling to work on a motorcycle taxi. At the same time, people claiming to be protesters robbed Patrice Merisier of Radio Galaxie outside the former headquarters of the Provisional Electoral Council.

A cameraman employed by the online news agency Haiti Press Network was reportedly attacked outside the National Palace by people who accused his news media of supporting the rigging of the elections. The British news agency Reuters reported that one of its journalists was robbed.

The barricades and riots are making it difficult for journalists to move about the capital, which has been in ruins since the 12 January earthquake. The Media Operations Centre, which Reporters Without Borders and the Canadian company Quebecor installed nine days after the earthquake, is normally very busy but has been virtually deserted since the start of the rioting.

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