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Gunmen raid Sri Lanka TV station

6 January 09 10:31 GMT

Gunmen armed with grenades have ransacked offices of the largest private TV broadcaster in Sri Lanka.

The attack near Colombo followed some criticism in state media of the MBC group's coverage of recent army gains against Tamil Tiger rebels.

More than a dozen intruders held guards at gunpoint and shot up equipment, causing extensive damage.

The media minister condemned the attack and said the president had ordered a full investigation.

Journalists in Sri Lanka have suffered a string of recent attacks and media freedom groups say intimidation and violence make it one of the most difficult countries in the world in which to report.

The latest attack follows army gains against the Tamil Tiger rebels in the north of the country.

The rebels' de facto capital of Kilinochchi fell last Friday and troops are on the outskirts of the strategic Elephant Pass that links the mainland to the Jaffna peninsula.

US condemnation

The attack on the MTV studios, run by the MBC group, took place in the early hours of Tuesday.

Guards were forced to take the attackers to the main control room, where equipment was destroyed with gunfire.

Police spokesman Ranjith Gunasekara said the attackers were unknown but there would be a thorough investigation.

Rights activists said there had been criticism of the way the organisation's three television stations and four radio channels had covered the recent army victories.

Some state media at the weekend said it gave too much coverage of a Tamil Tiger suicide attack that followed the fall of Kilinochchi.

Nationalist politicians in the past have accused the group of sympathising with the rebels.

When asked who carried out the attack, MTV head Chevaan Daniel told Reuters news agency: "It's either that the citizens of Sri Lanka are able to drive around attacking institutions armed with weapons and grenades, or there is a hand behind it."

Susil Kindelpitiya, a news director on one of MTV's channels, said the attack was due to "our unbiased reporting".

The US embassy said in a statement that it "deplores this latest in a series of criminal attacks on the independent media in Sri Lanka".

Amnesty International said in November that at least 10 media employees had been killed in Sri Lanka since 2006.

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