- Opposition and independent newspapers have returned to the stands for the first time since they were forced off a month ago when new violence erupted after government forces bombed rebel positions in breach of a nearly two-year-old ceasefire. Radicalised pro-government media have dominated in Côte d'Ivoire for several weeks.
On 4 November - the same day that Ivorian armed forces launched an offensive against the northern rebels - a wave of exceptional violence was unleashed against press freedom in the government-controlled parts of Côte d'Ivoire, notably Abidjan.
Pro-government militias ransacked a large number of opposition newspapers, gagging part of the press, sabotaged FM broadcasts by 'Radio France Internationale' (RFI), 'BBC' and' Africa N°1' and ousted the Director-General of 'Radiotélévision Ivoirienne' (RTI) for a pro-government figure.
The state-owned media that enjoy a virtual monopoly in the economic capital, Abidjan, then turned themselves into propagandists for President Laurent Gbagbo's ruling party and its radical youth organisation the "Young Patriots". These media thus called for an anti-French uprising, putting out doom-laden and extremist news.
The opposition and independent press had since that been silenced, with journalists being forced to live in hiding. Two joint publications by the entire opposition press were printed, but the private distributor Edi Presse refused to distribute the papers, citing "constant threats to destroy your dailies and to ransack offices."
After substantial pressure from the UN, including a threat to launch investigations into a possible preparation of genocide, President Gbagbo on 24 November suddenly gave the order to stop "hate journalism" in pro-government media. FM broadcasts of 'RFI' and 'BBC' returned to Abidjan and there was a noticeable change of tone on state-owned airwaves, which broadcast regular messages aimed at restoring calm.
Not before now, however, have opposition newspapers been able to return to the newsstands, distributed by Edi Presse. Normality has therefore been partly re-established in the media landscape of Côte d'Ivoire.
The return of independent and opposition media to the stands in Abidjan today was strongly welcomed by the UN mission in the country (UNOCI), calling it "a further sign of improvement in Côte d'Ivoire."
Welcoming their return, UNOCI also noted that South African President Thabo Mbeki was due to arrive in Côte d'Ivoire today as part of an international effort to bring the peace process back on track.
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