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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

Ban on Al Jazeera Is Extended Indefinitely

September 05, 2004|From Associated Press

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi government shut down Al Jazeera's Baghdad operations indefinitely Saturday, extending a one-month closure order imposed after the Arabic satellite channel was accused of inciting violence.

Officials at Al Jazeera reacted with outrage and said in a statement that the move ran "contrary to pledges made by the Iraqi authorities to pursue a policy of openness and to safeguard freedoms of the press and expression."

The interim government's Cabinet-level national security committee said in a statement that it had decided to extend a suspension ordered Aug. 5 because Al Jazeera had failed to offer an explanation of its editorial policies.

"Based on this lack of respect for an official government order," the ban has been extended until Al Jazeera TV headquarters "sends an official response," the statement said.

Al Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout said the office in Baghdad was stormed by Iraqi security forces hours before the order was announced.

"Members of the Iraqi security forces attacked our office, although it's been closed for nearly a month now. They took photographs and sealed it," Ballout said. "They positioned nearly 14 security officers outside."

Police officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were unaware of any raid.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said last month that the government had convened an independent commission to monitor Al Jazeera's daily coverage "to see what kind of violence they are advocating."

The channel has been criticized by senior U.S. officials for its coverage of the war in Iraq and for airing videotapes and audiotapes purportedly from Osama bin Laden or his aides.

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