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Syria: Minister bans distribution of 18 July issue of Al-Watan

BBC Monitoring

Text of report from Syrian newspaper Al-Watan website on 19 July

    Information Minister Muhsin Bilal yesterday issued a verbal decision to remove Al-Watan newspaper from the market after more than four hours of circulation (from 0700 to about 1130).

    For the sake of clarification, we tell all those who called us to assure themselves about the future of Al-Watan that the information minister's decision was a personal decision not related to anything published in yesterday's issue, and that the newspaper will continue publication.

    The editorial board thanks all the ministers, officials, media figures, and readers who called. We take pride in their friendship and concern for the country and Al-Watan, which will remain the free forum they knew and trusted.

    Here are the details: At 0900, Information Minister Dr Muhsin Bilal telephoned the Press Distribution Establishment and asked that all Al-Watan copies in the market be removed. He gave no justification for his oral decision. He then immediately headed to the Council of Ministers to attend the weekly cabinet meeting.

    At 1300, when the minister returned to his office, he reversed his decision and asked that the newspaper be redistributed in all the governorates. But because it was late and workers had already left, the Press Distribution Establishment was unable to redistribute the newspaper. At 1500, the minister once again asked that the newspaper be withdrawn from circulation. But at 1900, he again allowed the distribution!

    Throughout all this time, our colleagues the media men - and we thank them for this - kept calling us and other parties to learn the reasons behind the sudden decision. But, regrettably, officials at the Information Ministry (the quarter concerned with the decision) had no information regarding the reasons that led to the removal of the newspaper from the market. It transpired at a late hour that the decision was personal and not related to anything published in yesterday's issue.

    We finally point out that Al-Watan does not appear on Fridays and Saturdays. It will return to its readers on Sunday, as usual.

    Source: Al-Watan website, Damascus, in Arabic 19 Jul 07



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