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Dushanbe Campaign Against Mobile Phone Ads Draws Fire

DUSHANBE -- A Tajik communications official has complained about the removal of mobile phone advertisements from billboards in Dushanbe, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

Ghaffor Erkaev, the head of the Association of Tajik Mobile Communication Companies, told RFE/RL that although advertisements for tobacco and alcohol are illegal in Tajikistan, there is no ban on mobile phone advertisements.

The removal of the billboards was ordered earlier this month by the office of Dushanbe Mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaidulloev.

Erkaev said all the advertisements were prepaid and that the billboard business is beneficial to mobile phone companies and advertising agencies.

He said the billboard removal had come as a surprise.

Last month in his annual address to parliament, President Emomali Rahmon said Tajikistan, with a population of 7 million, had 6 million mobile phone numbers and 500,000 Internet users.

According to Rahmon, the annual profit of mobile companies is more than 1.4 billion somoni ($320 million), most of which he said goes to foreign companies.

Rahmon also instructed Health Minister Nusratullo Salimov to start a television campaign explaining what Rahmon said was the harm mobile phones cause to people, especially children.

Economist Masud Sobirov said that removing the billboards will not hurt mobile phone providers much because they have a good base for their development and should be able to find other ways to advertise their services.

But some experts say mobile phones have become an important tool for the spread of information and that is why authorities are putting the industry under pressure.