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Construction workers block newspaper offices with trucks in Panama

In an attempt to block the circulation of the Panamanian newspaper La Prensa, construction workers besieged the publication's offices late in the evening Thursday, Aug. 2, until the early morning of Friday, Aug. 3, according to the newspaper.

Workers from the construction company Transcaribe Trading (TCT) blocked the newspaper building's entrance with several tow trucks for nearly three hours after the newspaper published a story about irregular contracts between TCT and the Ministry of Public Works, reported the Inter American Press Association (IAPA).

The national police arrived at the scene but agents said they could not remove the vehicles because they were private property. Panamanian public officials like Vice President Juan Carlos Varela, and Grisell Bethancourt, president of the National Union of Journalists, showed up to denounce the blockade of the newspaper and demanded the removal of the trucks, reported Radio Panamá.

Employees attempting to mediate the conflict formed a human chain to allow the first copies of the newspaper Mi Diario to leave the building until the president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, arrived. Martinelli ordered the trucks to disperse, calling the events "deplorable," according to La Prensa.

Businessman Roberto Eisenmann, Jr., founder of La Prensa, blamed President Martinelli for the blockade, accusing him of being the true owner of the implicated company. Minister of Public Works Federico Suárez denied the accusations. TCT employees warned that protests would continue until the newspaper published their position, according to La Prensa.

The "restriction of the free circulation of the media and its reports are severe violations of freedom of the press and the public's right to information," said IAPA President of the Committee on Freedom of The Press and Information Gustavo Mohme, according to the news agency EFE.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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