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Maldives pro-opposition TV station set on fire

Monday - 10/7/2013, 8:00am  ET

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) -- Masked men set a fire that gutted the studio of a pro-opposition television station early Monday in the second attack there in two years, the owner said.

About six men on motorbikes threatened and chased away a security guard before setting fire to the station, Akram Kamaludeen said. Other offices in the building also were damaged.

Kamaludeen said there was no evidence that pointed to a suspect. He said President Mohamed Waheed Hassan's government and his allies have been upset with the station's coverage.

Last year, attackers broke into the building and cut cables, disrupting the station's broadcasts.

The television station backs the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, and authorities have barred it from covering government events.

"This is a dark day for press freedom in the Maldives," said Kamaludeen, saying police did not protect the station despite prior threats and has not investigating the previous attack.

Police were patrolling the neighborhood at the time of the attack and are investigating how the group broke in, said police spokesman Hassan Hanif.

The Maldives is facing political turmoil, with a court postponing a presidential runoff election that was expected to be favorable to MDP candidate, former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed secured more than 45 percent of the first round votes on Sept. 7 but fell short of the 50 percent needed. A runoff between him and his closest rival Yaamin Abdul Qayyoom, brother of the country's former autocrat, was postponed by the Supreme Court after the third-placed candidate alleged fraud in the first round.

The court is expected to decide whether to annul the first round election later Monday.

Nasheed, who became the country's first democratically elected president in 2008 and ending a 30-year autocracy, was ousted last year after public protests over his order to arrest a judge.

The U.S. Embassy in Colombo also accredited to Maldives on Monday expressed concern about the television attack and urged authorities to bring those responsible to justice and end "political violence and retaliation."


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