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MOSCOW, Russia -- The self-proclaimed new management of Russia's independent NTV network has wrested control of the station from reporters.
Thousands have protested the takeover of NTV
New security guards have been put in place at the station, and journalists who refused to recognise the validity of the takeover -- led by state-controlled gas giant Gazprom -- have been fired.
But renegade staff immediately started broadcasting on a smaller "sister" channel. CNN's Jill Dougherty says the development raises the spectre of "duelling stations."
NTV staff have fiercely opposed what they say is an illegal boardroom coup, claiming that the Kremlin was behind the move in a bid to silence the station's criticism of government policies.
But the new management team, led by American financier Boris Jordan, says it is a purely financial matter.
NTV political correspondent Alim Yusutov told CNN by phone from Moscow that he and other employees had been barred from entering the studios and had been told that a new staff was in place.
"Now we have a new company taken over by the state ... Using the same logo, they want to present themselves as NTV. We believe this totally changes the media situation in Russia," said Yusutov.
NTV correspondent Alexei Kondulukov, speaking by telephone from inside the main television tower at Ostankino in northern Moscow, said a so-called commission on the transfer of property arrived at NTV's offices to take control of the network shortly before dawn.
The station went off air during a morning news broadcast, before later returning with a regularly scheduled comedy about a parrot and a gorilla. A protest graphic, which had appeared on screen throughout the dispute, had disappeared.
Leading NTV journalists who refuse to recognize the new management took down large pictures of themselves that had hung in the halls and left the building after signing a statement they were leaving the station.
They went over to the offices of the smaller TNT station across the street.
Gazprom, which claims to hold a controlling stake of the independent television station's stock, voted out the station's management April 3 at a board meeting.
But the station staff had refused to let them into their offices, and have launched a legal case against the move which is due to be heard in May.
Thousands of people have demonstrated against the takeover in the biggest street protests of Vladimir Putin's presidency.
Putin has said that he cannot involve himself in a purely financial matter.
On Friday, Jordan said he had warned banks not to deal with managers of the channel until the takeover was complete.
His team's latest attempt to take control came as Yevgeny Kiselyov, the ousted general director, was in Spain consulting about the station's future with founder Vladimir Gusinsky, the head of the Media-Most group - which also owns TNT.
Gusinsky is currently fighting extradition to Russia on fraud charges which he says are politically motivated.
CNN founder Ted Turner is currently in negotiations to buy a stake in NTV.
The Associated Press & Reuters contributed to this report.
The original at http://www.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/europe/04/14/russia.ntv.02/index.html?s=10