BBC, CNN disappear in Pakistan as Bhutto detained

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ISLAMABAD, Nov 9 (Reuters) International television news channels BBC and CNN went off the air in Pakistan again today as opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was placed under house arrest ahead of a protest rally.

Authorities stopped cable operators from broadcasting international and private Pakistani news channels on the weekend, after President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule.

The only television available to most Pakistanis since then has been state television. Pakistani newspapers have been publishing as normal.

The BBC and CNN reappeared on cable channels last evening, when they were reporting Musharraf had promised to hold elections by mid-February.

But both disappeared again on Friday after reporting Bhutto was under house arrest and police had sealed off a park in the nearby city of Rawalpindi, where she had been planning a party meeting in defiance of a ban on rallies.

The censorship of the private news channels has sparked a rush for satellite dishes, and authorities in at least two cities have responded by banning the sale of the equipment.

The media have flourished since Musharraf seized power in a military coup in 1999. He often cited a free media as one of his achievements.

But the media have been highly critical of Musharraf since he tried to sack the country's chief justice in March.

Hours after declaring emergency rule, Musharraf ordered the imposition of sweeping reporting curbs.

REUTERS SZ HS1437

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