KIEV Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov ordered a dozen local reporters to be barred from covering government meetings after they staged a silent protest on Wednesday over physical attacks on journalists at a rally.
"What kind of show is this?" Azarov said when reporters who were attending a cabinet meeting stepped in front of television cameras, turning their backs on Azarov and his colleagues.
Signs pinned to their backs read: "Today it's a female journalist (beaten up), tomorrow - your wife, sister, daughter. Do something!"
The reporters were members of a journalists' pool that is allowed to attend weekly meetings at government headquarters. Azarov said they should be kicked out of it.
"Write down their names and revoke their accreditation," he said to his aides. "We respect journalists' work but please do not turn government meetings into a circus."
The reporters were protesting over attacks on two local journalists that took place when supporters and opponents of President Viktor Yanukovich clashed briefly during rallies in Kiev on Saturday.
The journalists attacked say they were beaten by Yanukovich's supporters. Police are investigating the allegations but opposition politicians have questioned their willingness to do it thoroughly.
Protests by reporters have become frequent under Yanukovich, who came to power in 2010 and quickly consolidated power by installing his allies in key positions and reverting constitutional changes that had strengthened parliament.
Last March several reporters wore paper masks of Yanukovich when they attended his news conference. And last year a dozen journalists stood up and raised anti-censorship banners when Yanukovich hailed Ukraine's march to media freedom at the World Newspaper Congress in Kiev.
Some journalists say the government is cracking down on media freedom and the media, most of them controlled by influential businessmen, are censoring themselves so that their owners maintain good standing with the authorities.
Azarov's spokesman Vitaly Lukyanenko said the government's press department would review Wednesday's incident and decide whether to strip the reporters of accreditation.
"How is the prime minister to blame (for the beating of reporters)? Why was he subjected to this slap in the face?" he said.
(Reporting by Sergei Karazy; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Alison Williams)