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Maoist Union Stops Distribution of Popular Newspaper in Nepal

A trade union reportedly affiliated to Nepal's Maoist party has disrupted the distribution of newspapers for the seventh consecutive day. Journalists and media associations say the Maoists are trying to control the media, but the former rebels say the dispute has nothing to do with them. Liam Cochrane reports from Kathmandu.

Around dawn on Wednesday at a printing press just south of Kathmandu, delivery boys belonging to a radical trade union tried to forcibly stop printers loading newspapers onto trucks for delivery.

When the trucks finally left under police escort, the workers threw stones at them and threatened the drivers.

It is the seventh day of disruption for the popular English language daily The Himalayan Times and its sister paper The Annapurna Post.

Editor of The Himalayan Times, Ram Pradan, says the industrial action is threatening Nepal's media freedom.

"They are kind of playing games, you know. And it also indicates, gives me a clear indication of what I can expect when they actually win the elections and be the elected government… I think they will be tougher," Pradan said.

It is widely assumed that the union, known as the All Nepal Communication, Printing and Publication Workers Union, is linked to the Maoist party.

Its members say they want to be employed directly by the newspapers and not by distribution companies that handle deliveries on behalf of the publications.

Critics say the Maoists are trying to position their unions to easily disrupt distribution of influential newspapers.

But Maoist Minister of Information, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, says the dispute is an issue between the workers and management, and not an issue of media freedom. He denies his party is linked to the newspaper delivery union.

"Our party has no any policy or plan or program to interfere with any paper or press," Mahara said.

But Nepalese journalists and editors, such as Ram Pradan, are not convinced.

"What the Maoists are saying doesn't make any sense to me," Pradan said. "I think are not being very truthful. It's their union and I've never believed that these unions do anything without their concurrence or instructions."

Last month, two other publications faced similar troubles.

The dispute highlights tensions between the Maoists and others in Nepalese society, since the former insurgents joined an interim government earlier this year at the end of a decade-long civil war.