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Press Muzzled as Military Strengthens Grip on Fiji

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Fiji's military government has moved to censor the media as it tightens its grip on the South Pacific country. Under a 30-day state of emergency, newspapers and broadcasters are banned from carrying stories that are critical of the army.

Editors at Fiji's newspapers as well as its television and radio stations have been ordered not to publish or broadcast any material that shows the military in a bad light. Journalists must submit sensitive stories to government officials for approval.

Censors have been placed in newsrooms to ensure the new rules are obeyed.

Ignoring the regulations could get a news organization shut down.

Security officials say news that causes "disorder" or "promote disaffection or public alarm" is banned.

Police spokeswoman Ema Mua says the sweeping measures are necessary to maintain calm.

"It is only for the good of all that we do this because it is at this time that people, sometimes some people, really do give out inciting issues and maybe it is a good thing that we discuss with the newsroom editor the issues that is (are) to be printed," Mua said.

Some newspapers and broadcasters have attempted to show their displeasure. The Fiji Times left one of its pages blank except for a message which said that that certain stories could not be printed because of government regulations.

Fiji Television's main evening news bulletin was canceled in protest at the restrictions. It was replaced by a program about fishing.

The Fiji Media Council said the censorship is a tragedy for a country where free and vigorous reporting has become a proud tradition.

Fiji has been run by its army chief, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, since December 2006, when troops ousted an elected government that senior officers said was corrupt and discriminated against the ethnic Indian minority.

Last week, the Court of Appeal declared the military takeover illegal, prompting Commodore Bainimarama to step down as interim prime minister. Fiji's president, who supports of the armed forces commander, responded by scrapping the constitution and dismissing the judiciary. The military administration was reinstated, its grip on power now stronger than ever.

The army warns that dissent among the population of 800,000 will not be tolerated.

International condemnation of developments in Fiji has continued. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the country had become "virtually a military dictatorship."