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Maoists gag Nepal's biggest media house

world Updated: Oct 02, 2007 14:37 IST
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Kantipur, Nepal's biggest private media house that had come under attack during King Gyanendra's absolute reign, faces an even greater onslaught with the current democratic government standing by as Maoists gagged it for two days in a row.

Defying a court order not to disrupt the activities of the media house, cadres of the powerful All Nepal Trade Union Federation (Revolutionary) affiliated to the Maoists, attacked the printing press of Kantipur, Nepal's largest selling daily, and its sister concern, the Kathmandu Post, in Kathmandu.

On Monday, Maoist unionists also laid siege to the company's office in Pokhara city, seizing copies of the two dailies published there and burning them in public.

After a similar attack last month, the two dailies have been unable to hit the stands once again since on Monday.

Besides the two dailies, the media house also runs an FM station, a weekly and a television station that is immensely popular and had been one of the sternest critics of the royal regime in the past, focusing relentlessly on its misdeeds and violent attack on unarmed protesters.

However, while the royal censors had obeyed the court, the two dailies have been facing one of the worst attacks on the media in Nepal's history with unionists first preventing them from collecting advertisements and then vandalising the press and trying to burn tyres on its premises.

"We are seriously concerned about the Maoist threat to close down Kantipur forever and also shut down Kantipur television in four days," the house's president Hemraj Gyawali said in a statement.

Despite condemnation pouring in from different organisations, the government remained inert.

"I won't compromise on press freedom," Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala reportedly told a delegation from the house who met him Monday to apprise him of the attack. "I will take strong steps."

Despite the assurance, the two dailies failed to appear Tuesday even as the Maoists gave a 24-hour ultimatum.

The trouble apparently started after a dispute over better pay and perks and giving permanent jobs to some employees.

Kantipur officials say they are ready to negotiate. However, the union went on the warpath after nine workers were sacked and two of its leaders were arrested.

"We are giving a 24-hour ultimatum to Kantipur who have whipped up a propaganda campaign," the Janadisha daily, the mouthpiece of the Maoists, said Tuesday.

"They have to free the two arrested leaders, disclose the whereabouts of three abducted people and reinstate the nine sacked workers," it said.

Meanwhile, Editors' Alliance Nepal, Nepal Bar Association, Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry and other organisations have condemned the attack.

The fresh siege comes with a crucial election only 50 days away.

Maoists have also begun targeting former ministers of the royal regime with the government once again watching passively.

They have begun putting up banners before the former ministers' houses, calling them corrupt and asking that they be ostracised.

On Monday, at the heart of the capital, they led a dog to the residence of a former minister who is also a royal kin.

"I am corrupt, I am the minister," a banner tied on the dog's back said.