Top security for journalists in Quetta

Matt Frei

 Journalists in Pakistan have been given armed police escorts amid growing concern for the safety of Westerners as anger towards US air strikes against Afghanistan increases.

Reporters in Quetta, who were told to remain in their hotels during protests on Monday, met police the following day to discuss a relaxation of the security restrictions, which have so far stopped them travelling to Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

The police, who are concerned for the safety of Western journalists and the impact of any attacks on the country’s reputation, have been providing a four-man armed escort for small groups of journalists and have so far refused to allow them up to the border.

"They have been anxious to control our access, not in terms of what we report, but they are very worried about any foreigners being trashed and are making our security a priority," said BBC correspondent Matt Frei.

After an angry meeting with police, journalists in Quetta were hoping to travel to the border on Wednesday.

"They have been very reluctant to let us go up there, but we had a meeting and kicked up a huge fuss, until they agreed to let us go," said Frei.

Journalists who are in Quetta on Friday could again be asked to remain in the hotel when a national day of protest against the US strikes is expected to take place.

The decision not to allow journalists outside the hotel during riots, which broke out following the first night of bombing, meant they had to rely on local stringers and camera crews. Frei reported for the BBC from the roof of his hotel.

"When they told us, my first instinct as a journalist was that it was outrageous. How did they expect us to cover the story?" said Frei. "But it did turn very nasty and at one point it became very clear that police had lost control."

By Julie Tomlin

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