Journalists protest Bush's al-Jazeera 'bomb plan'

Journalists in several Arab capitals on Thursday staged protests over reports that Unied States President George W. Bush wanted to attack Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera’s Doha headquarters.

Dozens of staff turned out for a symbolic sit-in at the Doha headquarters, with similar protests at the channel’s foreign bureaux.

About 100 of the channel’s journalists and employees have signed a petition calling on its board of governors to launch an official inquiry into the claim, which appeared in Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper.

They also demanded an immediate end “to attacks and incitement against al-Jazeera and its employees” and called for “the opening of an inquiry into the bombing of al-Jazeera’s offices in Kabul and Baghdad”.

The Daily Mirror reported the existence of a memo which summarised a conversation between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in which the US president was reported to have wanted to bomb the channel’s headquarters while Blair opposed the idea.

The channel’s director addressed the Doha sit-in from London, telling the gathered workers that he was trying to meet Blair.

“We have requested an urgent meeting with the British prime minister and editors of newspapers and other media in London,” said Wadhah Khanfar.

“We have adopted a plan of action that we have immediately started to implement,” he said, calling for next week to be “an al-Jazeera and freedom of expression week.”

“We won’t be quiet until we have reached the truth, which we will make public,” Khanfar added.

Protestors also called for United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to intervene “to bring the American administration and the British government to explain their attitude in this matter”.

Al-Jazeera’s reporting of the Iraq war angered Washington, but the White House described the Daily Mirror report as “outlandish”.

Tariq Ayub, an al-Jazeera journalist, was killed by a missile which hit the channel’s office in Baghdad during the US attack on Iraq in 2003.

Al-Jazeera’s bureau in the Afghan capital was also hit by American bombs, with the Pentagon saying it thought the building was an al-Qaeda base.

Lebanese journalists, including al-Jazeera employees, organised a protest in Beirut, where bureau chief Ghassan Ben Jeddo demanded an “inquiry into this matter” and the bombings in Kabul and Baghdad.

“The American administration is attacking the freedom of expression that is one of the founding principles of American democracy,” added the president of Lebanon’s audiovisual council, Abdel Hadi Mahfuz.

Other Lebanese media workers taking part in the sit-in included those from al-Manar, the television station of Shi’ite fundamentalist movement Hezbollah.

The group, which Washington describes as “terrorist”, issued a statement saying the affair has unveiled the true face of the United States as self-declared defenders of freedom of speech.

In Caira, al-Jazeera journalists also staged a protest at their bureau, where banners were set up saying “We want the truth”.

Chief Cairo correspondent Hussein Abdel Ghani said: “We’re here and in every office of our network today to demonstrate our deep concern about the story that was published about how Bush was thinking of bombing our headquarters.”

“We’re asking the United Nations and the international community for this story to be investigated,” he said.

“It’s unacceptable to shut down freedom of speech. It’s crazy that the threat comes from a country that we used to consider as a model for us in the Arab world.” - AFP

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