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Dozens of radio stations shut down in Venezuela

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  • Venezuela government takes dozens of radio stations off air
  • Reasons include expired permits, operation by unauthorized personnel
  • Venezuela President Hugo Chavez has cracked down on local media
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(CNN) -- At least 34 private radio stations in Venezuela were closed indefinitely Friday, and 206 more were at risk of being shut down, a government official said.

The stations were closed for various reasons, including expired permits and operation by unauthorized personnel, said Diosdado Cabello, minister of Public Works and Housing.

"Freedom of expression is not the most sacred freedom," Cabello was quoted as saying by CNN affiliate Globovision.

Cabello said the closings affected at least 11 states nationwide and 206 additional stations would shut down in the coming days.

Most station owners said the closures were politically motivated. The government of leftist President Hugo Chavez has cracked down on the media.

A "Special Bill Against Media Crimes" was introduced before the National Assembly this week, Cabello said, adding that he hoped the bill would pass.

The government has also heightened its battle against Globovision, the only critical private broadcaster in the nation. In June, it launched a fifth investigation into the network.

In early June, officials arrived at Globovision to accuse the station of not paying about $2.3 million in taxes for certain advertisements it aired in 2002 and 2003.

A few hours before, the government raided the home of Globovision President Guillermo Zuloaga, an avid hunter, to see whether he had killed any protected animals. It was the second raid on Zuloaga's home in two weeks.

"This is something to try to scare Globovision, to silence Globovision, something they are not going to achieve," Zuloaga said at the time.

RCTV, another independent station that criticized Chavez, lost its broadcast license two years ago. It had to go off the public airwaves and transmit solely on cable.

Other TV stations hung on to their frequencies by adjusting their editorial line, the Reporters Without Borders press organization said in its 2009 World Report.

Venezuelan officials have repeatedly denied any political motives. Chavez has labeled as "terrorists" any TV station owners who criticize the government.

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