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A poster of Moqtada Sadr next to praying protesters in Baghdad Hundreds of Iraqis have protested in Baghdad after a Shia newspaper was banned for allegedly inciting violence against the US-led coalition. Angry crowds gathered at the offices of Al-Hawza Al-Natiqa weekly, which is produced by supporters of the radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr. US troops earlier delivered a letter announcing a 60-day ban on the weekly. The US blames Al-Hawza for inciting violence; the paper's supporters say the ban attacks freedom of expression. Anti-occupation "We ask everybody to come to the newspaper and stay there until it is reopened," read a statement issued by Mr Sadr's office. Demonstrators responding to the call chanted anti-American slogans and burnt a US flag in Baghdad's al-Hurriyah square. Al-Hawza's editor, Ali Yasseri, told Reuters the US soldiers padlocked the office and threatened to arrest those who did not leave the premises. A letter in Arabic handed out by the troops said the paper "misleads readers" and "constitutes a real threat of violence against coalition forces and Iraqis who work with the coalition". A spokesman for Mr Sadr said the paper was against the US occupation of Iraq, but denied the charge that it incited violence. Sheikh Mahmud Sudani said Al-Hawza had attracted censure because it strongly criticised the killing of Palestinian preacher, Sheikh Yassin, by Israeli forces in Gaza last week. 'Like Saddam' Mr Sadr, a young cleric based in the holy city of Najaf, has fast risen to prominence since the US-led invasion in 2003. Huge crowds flock to his fiery sermons calling for an end to the US occupation of Iraq, while his supporters have formed an armed militia claiming to provide security and social welfare for Shias. Recent articles in Al-Hawza have accused the chief American administrator, Paul Bremer, of following in the footsteps of the deposed dictator, Saddam Hussein, by persecuting Shias. The publication has also alleged American rockets - rather than a car-bomb, as was widely reported - killed 53 Iraqis in the town of Iskandariyah recently.

Iraq's all-powerful civilian chief L. Paul Bremer III will not tolerate 'hate speech' from Iraq's newly freed media. To prove it he has assigned himself absolute power over the Iraqi press. Freedom of expression is in his gift and only the 'responsible' may enjoy it. Rohan Jayasekera comments. (2004)
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