May 23, 2013 / 11:36 AM / in 5 years

Ukraine PM acts to patch up relations with media after clash

* Azarov takes softer line after angry reaction to media protest

* Political ally criticises PM for being “emotional”

* Relations with media have worsened under Yanukovich

KIEV, May 23 (Reuters) - Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov backed down on Thursday from his order to revoke the official accreditation of a dozen local reporters after they displayed slogans at a cabinet meeting to protest against an attack on two colleagues.

The dour 65-year-old reacted sharply on Wednesday when the reporters displayed slogans demanding an investigation into the beating of two reporters at a political rally last Saturday.

Azarov, who has headed the government since President Viktor Yanukovich came to power in February 2010, told aides to strip the journalists of their reporting rights so that they could no longer cover government meetings.

But on Thursday Azarov met the same journalists and adopted a softer tone. “You are welcome to attend cabinet meetings and I hope that this incident will be the last one,” he told them, according to a video released by the government.

Azarov’s initial reaction prompted criticism not only from opposition politicians and other journalists, who staged a fresh protest next to his office on Thursday, but also from within the ruling Party of the Regions.

Hanna Herman, a parliament deputy from the Regions, described his words as “emotional” on Wednesday.

Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko, who also attended the meeting with the journalists on Thursday, said police were investigating Saturday’s beating of two reporters who were covering clashes between supporters and opponents of Yanukovich in Kiev while police allegedly did nothing.

Yanukovich relations with the media became strained as he consolidated power by installing his allies in key positions and reversing constitutional changes that had strengthened parliament.

In March several reporters attended a Yanukovich news conferences wearing paper masks of the president. 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 complain the government is cracking down on media freedom and self-censorship has become common among the media, most of which are controlled by influential businessmen. (Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Sonya Hepinstall)

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