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Burundi police close down private radio

afrol News, 22 July - An independent broadcaster in Burundi has been shot down by the police in a surprise action today. The radio station had been condemned for "biased reporting" during the recent municipal and parliamentary elections, but in a legal compromise closed down its transmissions during 48 hours earlier this week.

The independent Burundian radio station 'Radio Publique Africaine' (RPA) fell silent around 5 pm local time as a large group of police broke into the station compound, padlocked its studios, and cut off its transmitter, according to reports from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

It was not immediately clear if any RPA staff had been arrested, although one journalist told CPJ in a brief phone call, "they are taking us to the police station." The press freedom group was not able to get further information from the Burundian media this evening.

The sudden crackdown on the radio station came as a total surprise as it was believed that RPA had reached a compromise deal with local media authorities. The National Communications Council - known by its French acronym CNC - had ordered RPA indefinitely closed last Friday, 15 July, alleging that its recent election coverage was biased and that it had insulted the council.

RPA director Alexis Sinduhije, a 2004 recipient of the CPJ's International Press Freedom Award, at first denied the council's allegation of bias and said the station would defy the ban. The independent radio station later however agreed to negotiate a deal with the media council.

On Tuesday, RPA agreed to close for 48 hours, following a compromise deal mediated by the Association of Burundian Journalists (ABJ), the Association of Radio Broadcasters and the Burundian Press Observatory, a self-regulatory body for the profession. Mediators said that as part of the compromise, the CNC had agreed to lift the ban at the end of the 48 hours.

RPA resumed broadcasting Thursday morning and continued until police moved in the afternoon. According to CPJ sources, orders to send in the police came from the office of President Domitién Ndayizeye, whose FRODEBU party lost to the former rebel movement CNDD-FDD in the recent elections. The CNC did not issue any statements on the matter, local sources said.

- CPJ is outraged at the Burundian authorities' failure to deliver on their promise, the committee's Executive Director Ann Cooper said in a statement this evening. "We call on President Ndayizeye to ensure that RPA can resume broadcasting immediately, allowing journalists to work freely without fear of reprisal," Ms Cooper added.

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