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Georgians protest TV shutdown

Murdoch-owned Imedi fights suspension

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Georgian capital Tbilisi to demand that a leading independent TV station owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. go back on air.

In the first major opposition rally since President Mikhail Saakashvili’s violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrations earlier this month, 30,000 people marched to the Georgian parliament on Sunday to protest the continued closure of Imedi TV.

The station was forcibly shut down Nov. 7 during an on-air raid by riot police that badly damaged transmission and broadcast equipment.

A court formally suspended Imedi’s license a week later after authorities accused it of anti-government agitation.

Rival independent station Rustavi 2, also taken off the air during a nine-day state of emergency declared by Saakashvili, was allowed to resume broadcasting.

In a TV interview broadcast Sunday, Saakashvili accused Imedi’s former owner Badri Patarkatsishvili of turning it “into a tool for destabilizing the country and ousting the government.”

News Corp. denies the station was involved in anti-government protests and is appealing the suspension of its broadcast license through the Georgian courts. The company said damage caused during the Nov. 7 raid is likely to keep the station off the air for several months.

News Corp., which had a 49% stake in the station, took full control Oct. 31 from Patarkatsishvili.

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