Gunmen destroy Sri Lankan largest TV's studio

The early morning assault in the capital Colombo by about 15 attackers knocked MBC Network's three TV stations.

Gunmen destroy Sri Lankan largest TV's studio

Masked gunmen with grenades destroyed the main studio of Sri Lanka's largest private broadcaster on Tuesday, after state media criticised it for coverage of a Tamil Tiger suicide blast last week.

The early morning assault in the capital Colombo by about 15 attackers knocked MBC Network's three TV stations and four radio channels off the air for several hours after the gunmen blew up the master control room, witnesses and station officials said.

MBC has clashed with the government and police before over its coverage, and again over the weekend was criticised by state-run media for giving too much coverage to a Tamil Tiger suicide blast on Friday after a major military victory.

"It's either that the citizens of Sri Lanka are able to drive around attacking institutions armed with weapons and grenades, or there is a hand behind it," MTV Channel head Cheevan Daniel told Reuters when asked who was responsible.

Press freedom groups say Sri Lanka is among the world's most dangerous countries for journalists, with detentions, assassinations and intimidation common against critics of both the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

At the studio complex outside Colombo shortly after the attack, shattered glass was everywhere and doors were broken, while smoke poured out of the building as firefighters battled the blaze and an army bomb squad checked for more explosives.

No one was injured but more than a dozen employees were terrified and some were found hiding in various parts of the building including the roof, witnesses said.

On Friday, someone threw a petrol bomb at the studios. That followed coverage of an LTTE suicide blast at air force headquarters in Colombo that killed three airmen.

Army marches on

The bombing was apparently the Tigers' answer to the army's announcement on Friday of the capture of Kilinochchi, the northern city the separatist group had established as their self-proclaimed capital in the latter stages of the 25-year war.

Despite dealing that crushing blow to the Tigers, the military has given no quarter in its offensive.

It is marching toward the last Tiger bastions in the north and east of the island, and is set to assault a major LTTE base at the gateway to the Jaffna Peninsula.

The military on Tuesday said that both troops and the Tigers had suffered damages in a series of confrontations on the outskirts of Kilinochchi and on the northern Jaffna Peninsula on Monday and Tuesday. The LTTE had no immediate comment.

The war has driven emotions on both sides high, and diplomats say hardline elements of the security forces and the LTTE are involved in intimidation and attacks on journalists and other critics. The government rejects the allegations.

The United States immediately condemned the studio attack and demanded authorities find the perpetrators.

"The U.S. deplores this latest in a series of criminal attacks on the independent media in Sri Lanka. A free press that is not subject to intimidation or violence is an essential component of any democracy," the U.S. embassy statement said.

Police investigating officer N. Rupasinghe declined to comment at the scene, but said the attack was being probed

Reuters
Last Mod: 06 Ocak 2009, 11:24
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