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Yemen cracks down on press freedom

Yemen cracks down on press freedom

Yemen's government suspended publication of the nation's most popular daily Tuesday in a harsh crackdown on media as an unprecedented wave of deadly rioting sweeps the south.
For the past two days trucks carrying editions of the popular daily Al-Ayyam were looted and set on fire by government affiliated militias known as the Guards of Unity, said editor Hisham Bashrahel, who added that his paper's premises are surrounded by police.
Yemen's Ministry of Information on Monday issued a decree suspending the publication of any paper with coverage "harming national unity and Yemen's unity" _ a reference to separatist calls from disgruntled Yemeni southerners.
The restive nation, located on the tip of the Arabian peninsula, was two countries until the unification of the north and south in 1990. Southerners have since complained of being economically marginalized and discriminated against.
"This is like piracy. This is a violation to all Yemeni laws," said Samer Gobran, editor of the weekly al-Masdar, another publication stopped from printing. Five other weeklies have been suspended.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled the country for the past 31 years, has publicly complained several times of the extensive press coverage being given to the riots and the demonstrations that have swept the country's south.
At least seven soldiers and three civilians have died in clashes between security forces and southerners as demonstrations over the past week marking an abortive southern uprising in 1994 turned violent.
The editor in chief of the weekly al-Shareh (The Street) is meanwhile on trial for his coverage of fighting between the government and Shiite rebels in the north.
"I can say that the freedom of the press and speech is dying in Yemen," said Abdel Bari Taher, a well-known writer and former head of the press syndicate.
"The regime wants to silence all opposition to its policies and its war on the south," he added.
The New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement calling on the government to lift its restrictions on Al-Ayyam, saying its staff was "exercising their journalistic duty to cover an ongoing conflict."