Two Pakistan cities ban sales of satellite dishes

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ISLAMABAD, Nov 7 (Reuters) Authorities have stopped sales of satellite dishes in two Pakistani cities to block access to private news channels, salesmen said today.

The channels were taken off air on Saturday after the government imposed emergency rule, leaving only state television to run and re-run President Pervez Musharraf's address to the nation justifying his decision.

''Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority has temporarily suspended transmission of independent news TV channels till further instructions,'' says a message flashed by operators to its clients.

Instead, more Indian movies and entertainment channels have been added by cable operators.

The censorship prompted some to switch to satellite dishes for an update on domestic and world reaction, attracting a move by local administrations to prevent the sale of the equipment.

Police went to various electronic markets in at least two cities -- Rawalpindi, next to Islamabad, and Karachi -- and asked shop-owners to close, according to traders and witnesses.

''We were not shown any orders, but simply told to close,'' said Muhammad Imran, who works in a shop in Imperial Market in a congested Rawalpindi neighbourhood.

''They told us it is being done as various channels are airing contents that are creating tension and confusion.'' Rawalpindi's city police chief, Saud Aziz, denied any orders have been issued for shops to close or stop the sale of satellite equipment.

Traders in cities of Lahore and Peshawar said they received no such orders, but have run out of satellite dishes and decoders after a sharp rise in demand.

The media has flourished in Pakistan since Musharraf seized power in a military coup in 1999, but it has been highly critical since he tried to sack the country's chief justice in March.

Since then, private news and entertainment channels have been showing various talk shows and political satires ridiculing Musharraf and government policies.

Hours after declaring emergency rule, Musharraf came out with sweeping reporting curbs to rein in the media.

Under the new rules, the media is prohibited from broadcasting or publishing statements ridiculing him, top government officials and the military, on pain of up to three years' jail or fines up to 10 million rupees (167,000 dollars).

Soon after being blacked out, private TV channels streamed their programming on the Internet.

REUTERS PD BD1726

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