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"ABC Color" journalists threatened; president describes critical media as "enemy of the country"

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has deplored the "outrageous" charge by President Nicanor Duarte Frutos that opposition media were "enemies of the country" and expressed concern about growing intimidation of local media outlets in the run-up to national elections scheduled for April 2008.

Duarte charged that the opposition media wanted to "destroy the future of our country and the dreams of our citizens" when he inaugurated a low income housing project in the eastern town of Guarambare on 12 November. Two journalists of the daily newspaper "ABC Color" were threatened by officials of the ruling Colorado Party last month for printing criticism of politicians. The party has been in power for the past 60 years.

RSF said Duarte, like Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Bolivian President Evo Morales, was making the media a scapegoat because it criticised the government. "Free elections mean the public is free to criticise politicians and can never be used, under the pretext of democratic legitimacy, to obstruct the media in its job of reflecting public opinion," it said.

Duarte accused media owners of "amassing their fortunes by exploiting workers" and said they prospered the more they "sucked the blood of the people."

A candidate for the governorship of the southern province of Caaguazú, Francisco Alvarenga, who has a reputation for violence, threatened last month to kill the "ABC Color" correspondent in Coronel Oviedo, Carlos Mariano Godoy. Alvarenga phoned the journalist and warned that if he were not a candidate he would have tracked him down and shot him, saying it was easy for him to kill someone and that he would get even with Godoy, who had written about him in a series of profiles of candidates with bad reputations.

Aldo Benítez, the newspaper's correspondent in San Lorenzo, near Asunción, was threatened for the same reason by the mayor of Piribebuy, Cayo González, brother of defence minister Roberto González, and parliamentary candidate Víctor González.

Duarte, elected in 2003, is constitutionally barred from running for re-election in the 20 April 2008 elections.

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