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"Krygyz rights group slams pressure on media"

The International Herald Tribune reports on the Kyrgyz decision to halt RFE/RL and BBC broadcasts

(IHT story, based on AP report)

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan: The decision by Kyrgyz authorities to halt broadcasts by U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the BBC are part of a campaign to curtail freedom of information, a local civil rights groups said Tuesday.

Pressure on international broadcasters comes amid growing public frustration with the worsening economic climate, soaring food prices and widespread power shortages in the impoverished Central Asian nation.

The Kyrgyz National Radio and Television Corporation last week stopped broadcasting BBC programming on its airwaves. It earlier withdrew broadcasting rights from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Kyrgyz Service, known locally as Radio Azattyk.

"The simultaneous shutting down of these foreign radio stations -- which both broadcast high-quality journalism -- leaves no doubt that the decision is prompted by the aim to isolate the Kyrgyz people, especially in the regions," the Democracy and Civil Society coalition said in a statement.

Melis Eshimkanov, who heads the state broadcaster, said the stations had breached their contracts with the Kyrgyz National Radio and Television Corporation and complained of bias at Radio Azattyk.

"The BBC pledged to install four relay stations across the country, but they have only set up two in the south," Eshimkanov told The Associated Press.

Eshimkanov said Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty also owed the state broadcaster money and that Radio Azattyk had given excessive exposure to opposition politicians.

"There is an absence of balance in their programs, 80 percent is advertising for the opposition, and only 20 percent is devoted to information about the government," he said.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty president Jeffrey Gedmin rejected charges there had been any breakdown in payments and said Kyrgyz officials have declined to meet with RFE/RL representatives to resolve the situation.

"The suspension, which began on Oct. 8, was initially portrayed as a payment dispute, but we have since traced the payments and confirmed deposit and receipt," Gedmin said.

The BBC's Kyrgyz office declined to comment Tuesday.

Rights advocates say political freedoms have lessened and pressure on the opposition and independent media has increased in Kyrgyzstan since the 2005 rise to power of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.