EMBATTLED RADIO KIRIBATI JOURNALISTS COVER FIERCE ELECTION

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TARAWA, Kiribati (Nov. 7, 2002 - PINA Nius Online)---Kiribati's fiercest national election campaign is reported to be leading to extraordinary pressures on journalists of the national broadcaster, Radio Kiribati.

Although the radio station and its staff are reluctant to comment, it is understood:

--Journalists are facing questions from President Teburoro Tiito's government over reporting of Opposition allegations the Chinese Embassy is helping government candidates.

--Despite this reporting, the Opposition is claiming Radio Kiribati is not carrying news about Opposition candidates.

As the country prepares to vote on Nov. 29, Tiito's government has faced a number of controversies. These have been highlighted by the Opposition.

They include the expensive problems Air Kiribati faced launching international services with a leased ATR72 aircraft, and continuing questions about a Chinese tracking station on Tarawa.

Tarawa is southeast of America's Kwajalein missile-testing range in the neighboring Marshall Islands. There has been speculation the tracking station is connected to this, despite Chinese denials and statements it is for peaceful purposes.

A Radio Kiribati journalist was temporarily suspended after reporting about the problems the government was having with the plane,

It is understood the government is now enraged over Radio Kiribati's reporting of Opposition leader Harry Tong's claims the Chinese Embassy is helping some government ministers.

The Chinese Embassy has strongly denied any interference in the elections and said grants it is giving at the moment were applied for long ago.

Tiito is now believed to be handling the Information Ministry portfolio himself in the countdown to the elections.

His government earlier blocked efforts to start the first non-government radio station on Tarawa, the main population center. It also brought in newspaper laws that it said were designed to protect ordinary citizens but have regionally been described as "draconian."

A former president, Ieremia Tabai, who is now an Opposition member, tried to start the FM radio station after returning from serving as secretary-general of the Suva-based Pacific Islands Forum.

When he was blocked from doing this he launched the country's first successful non-government newspaper, the Kiribati NewStar.

Meanwhile, as the government pressures on the Radio Kiribati journalists continued, a spokesperson for the Opposition, Brian Orme, said nothing is being broadcast about Opposition candidates.

This claim would have come as a surprise to the Radio Kiribati journalists as they faced questioning over reporting Dr. Tong's comments on the Chinese.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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