Dutch journalist advises Guinean leader

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A former Dutch journalist has been giving PR advice to President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, who seized power in a coup in 1979 and has been ruling the country ever since.

Interviewed by the VPRO radio programme that brought the issue to light, Mark Blaisse said: "Compared with Denmark or the Netherlands, human rights there are of course a mess. But compared with the African average, I don't think it's any better or worse than elsewhere."

Mr Blaisse, who is the former head of financial magazine , currently leads a consultancy, the Pilgrims Consult. In the radio programme, he denies allegations that the aim of his PR advices to President Obiang is to improve his image.

Improving image But former Dutch politician Boris Dittrich, who now works for Human Rights Watch in New York, describes the president as an international pariah. "So he tries to improve the country's image with public relations," according to Mr Dittrich. Oil companies eager to tap the country's oil reserves are also keen to change the country's undemocratic reputation, says Mr Dittrich.

On Mr Blaisse's advice, journalists from Equatorial Guinea took a course in independent journalism in Spain, the former colonial power. On their return, they received funds to begin an "independent" television station. Mr Blaisse admits one cannot openly oppose the government, but insists the new station is a small step in the right direction.

Military executed Mr Blaisse does not approve of the recent execution of four soldiers shortly their conviction. "But it was not arbitrary," he emphasises. The soldiers, Mr Blaisse reasons, knew exactly what punishment awaited them for rebelling against the government. The programme's revelations have led Mr Blaisse to resign as board member of the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières.

© Radio Netherlands Worldwide

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