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Benin Opposition Radio Sacks Staff After License Pulled

FILE - Benin President Patrice Talon holds a press conference in Paris, March 5, 2018. A radio station belonging to one of Talon's opponents has fired its staff after Benin's communication watchdog pulled its license.

A radio station in Benin belonging to an exiled opponent of President Patrice Talon has sacked all its staff after authorities stopped it from broadcasting, employees said Wednesday.

Soleil FM, owned by France-based businessman Sebastien Avajon, has been off the air since the country's communication watchdog told it to halt its programming in December "until further notice."

Journalist Virgile Ahouanse confirmed the staff had been let go and attacked the decision to pull the license as a "radical step that disregarded the public's right to information."

The latest moves have sparked fresh concerns about freedom of the press in the West African country as Talon faces accusations of stifling dissent and forcing his rivals to go abroad.

Rights group Amnesty International this week described a "climate of censorship and fear" among the Benin media and warned that a law targeting misinformation online was being used to harass the media.

Seventeen journalists, bloggers and opposition activists have been investigated under the legislation in recent years, Amnesty said.

Reporter Ignace Sossou was jailed in December for 18 months over an internet post critical of the government.

Former French colony Benin has typically been seen as among West Africa's most stable democracies. But it has been facing a political crisis since controversial parliamentary elections in April sparked mass protests.

Talon, a former business magnate who came to power in 2016, has been accused of using a string of legal cases to rid himself of opponents.

Multimillionaire Ajavon, who came in third in the presidential election, was in 2018 sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison for trafficking cocaine.