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Azerbaijan Silences Independent Broadcaster

(RFE/RL) BAKU, November 24, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Two independent media outlets in Azerbaijan were ordered closed today following government claims they violated property and licensing standards.

RFE/RL's correspondent in Baku reports police entered the premises of the "Azadliq" opposition newspaper, saying all staff and equipment will be evicted from the building on November 25.

The Turan news agency and Azerbaijan's Popular Front opposition party occupy the same building, and also face eviction. The demand comes after a court today ruled in favor of the country's State Property Committee, which had filed a suit claiming the three groups were occupying the premises illegally.

Earlier today, the independent broadcaster ANS was taken off the air by government officials after the national radio and television authority refused to extend its license.

Off Air

ANS co-chairman Mirshahin Agayev was describing the dramatic events around the ANS building on the air when the broadcast signal was abruptly cut: "I am doing this broadcast under extreme conditions. Police officers, representatives of law-enforcement agencies, and the prosecutor's office are standing outside. Official representatives of state television and radio are shutting down ANS equipment, one [piece of equipment] after another. It looks like they are planning to remove us from the building. As a representative of ANS, I am ... [static]."

Listen to Agayev's report in Azeri (26 seconds):
Real Audio Windows Media

As grounds for its decision, the National Radio and Television Council cited violations of broadcasting regulations, failure to pay fines, and what it said was ANS's disregard for a previous "warning."

But an ANS announcer, who read out the council statement before the transmission was cut, said the broadcaster had not received any official documents about the council's decision.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has condemned the closure, saying international observers have long considered ANS to be Azerbaijan's most objective news broadcaster.

ANS is an RFE/RL FM affiliate and is considered to be the most popular independent TV and radio channel in Azerbaijan.

It has been waiting for the renewal of its license since 2003.

Last month, authorities said they would bar ANS from airing foreign broadcasts at the start of 2007 because they said the station lacked "proper licenses."