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Rebel Leaders in Misrata Curb Press Freedoms as Casualties Mount

June 22 (Bloomberg) -- Rebel leaders in the besieged western Libyan city of Misrata imposed restrictions on the foreign press, marking a sharp contrast with their previous openness and with the policies of their counterparts in Benghazi in the east.

Journalists traveling to Dafniya, a village near Misrata on the eastern frontline, are being turned back at checkpoints by rebel fighters, who say they have been told by authorities that some members of the western media may be spies.

Fast internet access has ended, journalists may only use officially approved translators, and Misrata officials no longer recognize the accreditation of the National Transitional Council, the Benghazi-based rebel government known as the NTC. The council has courted foreign media as its officials seek assistance and loans from abroad.

The restrictions came into force this week as the casualty toll from daily rocket attacks on the city by forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi mounts, and after reversals on the battlefield where rebel offensives failed to enlarge the Misrata pocket. NTC spokesmen in weren’t immediately available to comment about the developments.

Mohammed Durat, head of the Media Center of the Misrata City Council, said the changes are being imposed to help journalists. “We want to care about your safety,” he said in an interview today. “You should be happy about this.”

The attacks by pro-Qaddafi forces on Misrata come after at least a month in which urban areas suffered no bombardment. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization told government fighters June 14 to stop attacks or risk being targeted by Apache helicopters.

Misrata city authorities are struggling on other fronts. State employees, including doctors and teachers, have not been paid for five months and money is scarce. The City Council has indefinitely closed banks, after saying they would open on June 19 to allow workers to be paid.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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