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Nepal Media Protests Attack by Maoist Activists

Nepal's leading newspapers are protesting an attack on a prominent media house by Maoist activists. Maoists, who gave up an armed revolution two years ago, now lead the country's coalition government.

In Nepal Tuesday, any English and Nepali-language newspapers left editorial spaces blank, some with bold black borders.

The newspapers are protesting the Sunday attack on one of the country's biggest publishing houses, Himal Media by dozens of activists belonging to a labor union affiliated to the Maoists.

The protesters attacked journalists and property, demanding the reinstatement of Maoist-affiliated employees who had been sacked. Several people were injured. Reports say the attackers also expressed anger at coverage critical of the Maoist government.

The Media Society and Editors Alliance in Nepal is calling the assault a serious threat to media freedom. Kunda Dixit is editor of Nepali Times, which is published by Himal Media.

"We saw the attack as an attack on press freedom, on the values of democracy for which we fought, the media has fought, along with civil society and the democratic parties in the past… and now the threat comes from an elected Maoist government, and we thought we had to make a strong statement," he said.

The Maoists, who emerged as the biggest political party in elections this year, now head a coalition government. Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda has denied any role by his party in the attack and blames it on people "engaged in giving a bad a name to the party in the guise of Maoists." He has promised an investigation and says the guilty will be punished.

But leading editors, like Dixit, say they are not convinced that the government will act. He says they had earlier problems from Maoist activists, who have burned or blocked distribution of publications.

Dixit says Nepalese journalists will fight any effort by the Maoists to control media.

"This has really has gone too far, and most of us think enough is enough and we have to do something. And, the blank editorials is just a beginning. We have said we will now escalate our protests. We will see what else we can do," he said.

The attack has been condemned by Nepal's main political parties, the United Nations and media freedom groups.