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A financial blogger who predicted the global economic crisis in his blog has been arrested for spreading rumours, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and news reports.

Despite being unemployed and a self-taught economist, Park Dae-sung, or "Minerva" to his followers, ominously predicted South Korea's market decline in online bulletin boards last fall - far earlier than his government.

In a move widely perceived by the public as a chilling echo of the 1970s, when a military dictatorship ruled South Korea, the government detained Park last month, invoking a seldom-used electronic communications law that charges him with harming the public by spreading "false rumours."

Allegedly, he predicted the collapse of Lehman Brothers five days before it happened. He predicted a sharp decline in the value of South Korea's currency a few days before the Korean Won imploded against the dollar, said news reports.

"The use of communication laws to imprison Park Dae-sung is a troubling step backward for democracy in South Korea. He should be released immediately," said CPJ. "Expressing opinions about the economy online is not a crime."

Park faces a maximum five-year prison term or a 50 million Won ($36,300) fine if convicted in his trial, which he is expected to face within a month or two. He is seeking bail, which was initially denied last week, reports CPJ.

According to "The Washington Post", by the time he was arrested, Park was a cyber-sensation. His blog had garnered more than 40 million page views and he was celebrated in the South Korean news media as the "online oracle" and the "Internet president of the economy."

"I wrote articles to help those people alienated from the government... who have suffered from the financial crisis," Park told reporters after his arrest.

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(4 February 2009)

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