September 2, 2009 / 8:27 PM / 10 years ago

Guinea bans political debates on radio, TV

* Military junta bans politics on live chat shows * Move follows demonstrations, censorship row

* Rights group accuses military of intimidation

By Saliou Samb

CONAKRY, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Authorities in Guinea have banned live political chat shows, the latest sign of political unease after violent demonstrations and accusations of phone censorship deepened a row over delayed elections.

The military junta that has run the world’s top bauxite producer since a December 2008 coup is facing mounting opposition and criticism after it delayed until 2010 elections which the military leader has not ruled out standing in.

"The National Communications Council (CNC) has decided to ban, until further notice, politics from all types of interactive broadcasts in any language," said a statement read on state television.

A senior source in the CNC, which regulates all media in Guinea, told Reuters that the ban was a result of "pressure from the entourage around the head of the junta".

The measure follows a row last week over efforts by the National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD) junta to block a text message being sent to mobile phones that called on Guineans to resist plans by CNDD leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara to stand in elections.

Telecommunications companies felt threatened by the CNDD’s order and suspended the use of the text messages for several days to stop the message from spreading, the Ghana-based Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) said.

Camara has not ruled out the possibility of standing in the election, which is expected on Jan. 31, despite mounting criticism of rights abuses. The move would add to a string of efforts by leaders in the region to extend their time in power.

The coup received a cautious welcome from Guineans weary of decades under the late President Lansana Conte but critics say the junta’s rule has become increasingly characterised by criminality, political restrictions and arbitrary arrests.

"The coup leaders keep saying they are breaking with the past, but the use of threats and intimidation against opponents look disturbingly familiar," said Corinne Dufka, of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. embassy in Conakry over the weekend, shouting "Dadis must go! Dadis must go!". Washington last month reiterated a call for elections that the military would not contest, to ensure transparency.

Another demonstration against Camara last month was broken up by the security forces.

"Captain Camara and his men need to stop these abuses and make sure that there is a level playing field for the presidential election," Dufka said. (Writing by David Lewis; editing by Robin Pomeroy)






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