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EU Warns Azerbaijan on International Radio Ban

The European Union is warning Azerbaijan that its plan to ban international radio stations from broadcasting on local frequencies could interfere with plans for building deeper EU ties with the Caucasus country.

The ban applies to the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the British Broadcasting Corporation and Russia's Evropa Plus.

EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the decision to cut broadcasts January 1 is a matter of serious concern" that will deprive listeners of "valuable and independent sources of information."

Tuesday, the U.S. State Department voiced deep regret at Azerbaijani ban, while the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees VOA and RFE/RL, said it deplored the move.

Azerbaijan says the ban brings the radio stations in line with a long-standing law barring local stations from broadcasting foreign programs.

RFE/RL said the ban will block information to 90 percent of its Azerbaijani audience. It promised to find other ways to bring uncensored news to the country.

International rights groups accuse Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's government of suppressing media freedoms while presiding over an oil-fueled economic boom.

Last week, Azerbaijan's parliament approved a ruling party proposal to stage a referendum next year on scrapping presidential term limits.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.