Government authorities in Somalia on Tuesday ordered two more radio stations off the air, a day after shutting the popular Radio Shabelle station. The closures follow a surge in violence in Mogadishu as Ethiopian troops backing the government battle Islamist-led insurgents. Derek Kilner has more from VOA's East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
The closure of Radio Simba and Radio Banadir on Tuesday, and of Radio Shabelle a day earlier, has prompted outcries from local and international press groups.
Leonard Vincent of the Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders, says the closures are illegal and represent a troubling development in the government's relations with the media.
"They are more worrying because no explanation has been given. Before we had the feeling that there was some kind of grip of civilian authorities on the situation and now they don't even bother to give any kind of legal aspect to the closure of radio stations. Closing down a radio station like that with no explanation with the force of weapons is something completely illegal and against all treaties and conventions signed by the Transitional Federal Government," said Vincent.
Somali authorities have accused the stations of favoring insurgents in their coverage, a charge the stations deny.
Ethiopian troops regained control of Mogadishu from armed Islamists in January, but have been battling ever since to defeat what has developed into an Iraq-style insurgency.
The fighting in the capital has intensified in recent weeks, with Ethiopian troops launching a new offensive. The United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday that more than 170,000 people have fled Mogadishu in the past two weeks. Estimates of the number people killed range from 60 to over 80.
At a news conference in Nairobi on Tuesday, Somali interim President Abdullahi Yusuf blamed recent attacks on Islamist insurgents, including the Shabbab, a militant Somali youth group with ties to the Al-Qaida terror network. He also played down the severity of the situation.
Mr. Yussuf says that while Mogadishu has been suffering from insurgent attacks, the situation in Somalia today is the best since 1991, when the central government collapsed.
A message on Radio Shabelle's website says the government has not indicated when the station will be allowed to resume broadcasting.