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Ecuador's President Correa sues newspaper and is blamed for killing free speech

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Guillermo Granja/Reuters

(Read caption) Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa speaks during a news conference after a court session at the Ecuadorean Justice Supreme Court in Quito, Tuesday.Correa sued editorial page editor Emilio Palacio and the owners of the newspaper El Universo for libel.

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A much-awaited appeal hearing on the case of an Ecuadorian newspaper sued by the country's president was suspended today amid growing charges that President Rafael Correa is squashing free speech in this Andean nation.

The newspaper El Universo faces $40 million in damages and jail time, after they lost a libel suit brought by President Correa.

Correa, who has sued other journalists and created new media laws while greatly expanding the state media apparatus, has defended his moves to put a check on a sensational private industry with a political agenda. But his moves have been condemned by press groups inside the country and out, including American newspapers from coast to coast

 “Since Correa took office five years ago, the situation has seriously deteriorated in Ecuador,” says Carlos Lauria, Americas director for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Correa has drawn similar rebukes from the New York Times and Los Angeles Times in recent days. Perhaps the Washington Post in a  Jan. 11 editorial put it most bluntly, blaming Correa for “ the most comprehensive and ruthless assault on free media underway in the Western Hemisphere.”

The libel case was brought by Correa last year after a column in the opposition publication questioned the events of a 2010 police protest that turned deadly, and that Correa has called a coup attempt.

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