August 24, 2017 / 5:53 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-Colombian TV channel Caracol says Venezuela pulled it from airwaves

(Adds comment from Caracol director, Colombian president)

CARACAS/BOGOTA, Aug 24 (Reuters) - President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government has pulled a Colombian television channel from Venezuela’s airwaves, Caracol Television said on Thursday, slamming the move as a crackdown on media.

Maduro’s administration frequently blasts neighboring Colombia for being part of what it describes as a global right-wing conspiracy to bring down socialism in oil-rich Venezuela. The government did not have an immediate comment on the matter.

Critics of Maduro say the unpopular leader has morphed into a dictator who tries to stifle coverage of the OPEC country’s rampant inflation, product shortages, violent crime, and its crackdown on opposition politicians.

“One more channel off the airwaves! Has that made crime go down? Is inflation any lower? Is there more food? More medicine? Has any problem been solved? This is what (Maduro) takes care of, censuring the truth,” opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Thursday.

Maduro, a 54-year-old former bus driver and foreign minister, alleges he is fighting well-financed coup plotters with links to the United States and hostile foreign media.

Caracol “has always carried out its journalism in an objective and truthful way,” Juan Roberto Vargas, the head of the channel’s news operation, told local Colombian radio, adding he regretted Venezuela’s decision.

The channel also blasted “censorship” from Maduro in a statement.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has become increasingly critical of Maduro’s administration, said he also regretted Venezuela’s decision.

“It’s another demonstration of a regime that doesn’t like freedoms, a regime that is restricting the freedoms of citizens and that’s why we’ve said this regime has moved away from the democratic system and is acting more and more like a dictatorship,” Santos told journalists.

Earlier this year, Venezuelan telecoms regulator Conatel suspended three television channels, including CNN’s Spanish-language service, from the airwaves, accusing them of distorting the truth in their coverage.

Authorities took Colombia’s NTN24 TV network off the air in 2014 over its reporting of opposition protests that turned violent, and blocked the Argentine news site, Infobae.

Venezuela’s information ministry and regulator Conatel did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reporting by Corina Pons, Andreina Aponte and Alexandra Ulmer in Caracas and Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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