BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Police ordered Al-Jazeera’s employees out of their newsroom Saturday after the Iraqi government accused the Arab satellite channel of inciting violence and closed its office for 30 days.

Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib said the closure was intended to give the station “a chance to re-adjust their policy against Iraq.”

“They have been showing a lot of crimes and criminals on TV, and they transfer a bad picture about Iraq and about Iraqis and encourage criminals to increase their activities,” he said. “We want to protect our people.”

Al-Jazeera officials said the closure was an ominous violation of freedom of the press. Haider al-Mulla, a lawyer for Al-Jazeera, said the channel would respect the decision but study its legal options.

Senior Iraqi police officials arrived at the station’s central Baghdad office Saturday evening and, in an extraordinary scene broadcast live on the network, sat at a table drinking soft drinks with senior staff as they calmly explained the order.

Al-Mullah said the closure decision was unclear and objected to its phrasing. The police said they had to execute the order anyway, asking al-Mullah to take his complaints to the Interior Ministry.

The police refused to leave the office before locking the newsroom and ordering employees to go home. Crossing his wrists as if handcuffed, a police officer warned al-Mullah against violating the decision.

“It is a regrettable decision, but Al-Jazeera will endeavor to cover the situation in Iraq as best as we can within the constraints,” Jihad Ballout, the network’s spokesman, said.

In an Arab world rife with conspiracy theories, the decision to close the offices of the popular channel could reinforce the perception that decisions by Iraq’s interim government are influenced by the United States, which has long complained about Al-Jazeera’s coverage.

Government ministers in Iraq have grown increasingly critical of the television station in recent weeks.

Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said Saturday that the government had convened an independent commission a month ago to monitor Al-Jazeera’s daily coverage “to see what kind of violence they are advocating, inciting hatred and problems and racial tension.”

Based on the commission’s finding, the National Security Committee ordered the monthlong closure, Allawi said.

Iraq’s now-disbanded Governing Council, in place during the U.S. occupation, banned the station’s reporters from entering its offices or covering its news conferences for a month in January because it had reportedly shown disrespect toward prominent Iraqis.

That was the second such ban imposed by the Governing Council on the station.

Al-Jazeera has occasionally run into problems with authorities in other Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan and the former Iraqi regime. Unlike Arab state-run media, the station often airs views of local opposition figures and their criticisms of their countries’ rulers.

Senior U.S. officials also have frequently criticized the station for its coverage of the war in Iraq. They accuse it of being an outlet for the al-Qaida terror network for broadcasting videotapes and audiotapes purportedly from Osama bin Laden or his aides. Al-Jazeera denies the allegations.

AP-ES-08-07-04 1945EDT

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