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QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — President Rafael Correa's government has initiated proceedings to shut down Ecuador's sole remaining press freedom group, accusing Fundamedios of political partisanship.
The watchdog group was notified Tuesday in a letter from the Communications Secretariat, director Cesar Ricuarte said Wednesday.
The letter accused Fundamedios of publishing essays and tweets "of indisputably political bent" but did not offer specifics. It was signed by Fernando Alvarado, the communications secretary.
"It's an absurd accusation," Ricuarte said, who contended that Fundamedios was targeted for denouncing government attacks on journalists. He said the group was given 10 days to defend itself before a government ruling.
The Associated Press called the Communications Secretariat and was told no one there would comment.
"Not satisfied with persecuting, harassing, levying fines and verbally abusing its critics in the press, the government now undertakes to dissolve the only independent group that defends press liberty," said Carlos Lauria, Americas coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Correa's government has used criminal libel prosecutions against critical voices as well as a restrictive media law considered among the most repressive in the hemisphere.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that it's not just independent media that Correa has attacked but also groups critical of his rights and environmental record.
The group's managing director for the Americas, Daniel Wilkinson, called on Correa to immediately halt the attacks.
"This is an egregious abuse of power," he was quoted as saying.
Correa first won election in 2006 and has maintained popularity with the poor by spending Ecuador's oil wealth on social welfare and infrastructure.
He dominates all branches of government and pending legislation would allow him to rule indefinitely.
But plunging oil prices have forced Correa to impose cost-cutting measures that have hurt his popularity and he has faced mounting street protests since June in which scores have been injured and arrested.
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report from Lima, Peru.