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Condi defends the press in Sudan

Condi and Andrea Mitchell probably don’t think much of Sudan’s Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail.

You know something is wrong if Condi’s coming to the rescue of the news media. What the heck is the problem with these Sudanese officials? It’s safe to say that local journalists in Sudan probably take their lives into their hands if they have to talk to government stooges. Freedom of the press need not apply.

US officials and press accompanying US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on a trip to Sudan said they were “manhandled” by security staff at President Omar al-Beshir’s residence.

US officials said the security men tried to prevent them and the press from entering the meeting, and tried to confiscate tapes from a National Public Radio reporter, before Rice’s spokesman Sean McKormack and others intervened.

Jim Wilkinson, senior adviser to Rice, said he was grabbed and thrown against the wall at the entrance to the residence before he bulled his way through with Rice’s personal assistant in tow behind him.

“Freedom of the press is a wonderful thing and we don’t appreciate being manhandled at the front door,” a fuming Wilkinson told reporters. “Diplomacy 101 says you don’t rough your guests up, especially the press.” The Sudanese finally relented and let the American press in in two waves.

The US officials were still furious, however, and Wilkinson was seen waving a angry finger at Sudan’s Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail. A Sudanese official quickly came out to the anteroom, where the second group of journalists had been stopped, and apologised repeatedly.

“It is not our intention in any way to bar the press from doing its job,” said Khidir Haroun Ahmed, chief of the Sudanese mission to the United States. When the second press group finally entered for a photo op with Rice and Beshir, NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell tried to ask a question about why Khartoum should be believed in its promises to crack down on militias in its western Darfur region, but she was cut off and pushed away by the Sudanese. Wilkinson again angrily intervened, and said “don’t ever touch our journalists again”.

An enraged Rice came to talk to the press on the plane before taking off for the restive region of Darfur and apologised to Mitchell, saying she was demanding an immediate apology from the Sudanese. “They had no right to manhandle my staff and the press,” Rice said. “It makes me very angry to be sitting there with their president and have this happen.”

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding