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US-backed TV channel seeks to counter extremism in Nigeria

Image grab from video obtained by AFP on May 5, 2014, shows the leader of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau (C) delivering a speech
A grab made on May 5, 2014 from a video obtained by AFP shows the leader of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau (C), delivering a speech

A new TV channel soon to launch with US financial backing in northern Nigeria aims to counter the growing influence of radical Islamist groups like Boko Haram, the US State Department said Saturday.

The project started last year and is set to begin broadcasting this summer. It is run in Nigeria by Equal Access International, a San Francisco-based organization that has also managed media programs, partly funded by the State Department, in Yemen and Pakistan.

The new television satellite channel is to be called Arewa24 -- "arewa" being the Hausa word for north, the group said.

"The goal was to support the efforts of diverse civil society groups to develop alternative narratives that would resonate with the people of the region and promote tolerance," Pooja Jhunjhunwala, a State Department spokeswoman, told AFP Saturday.

The venture is financed by the State Department's Bureau of Counterterrorism, and it is expected to cost about $6 million, the New York Times reported.

The State Department and Equal Access have met with the Nigerian government about the television project, which "fully complies with Nigerian regulations and laws," the organization said on its web site.

Jhunjhunwala said the State Department's efforts on the project recognize "the threat presented to northern Nigerian communities by violent extremism."

News of the television station's launch follows Internet ventures undertaken by Washington in Cuba, including a Twitter-style site denounced by the Havnana government as "illegal and covert," and a texting application created in Cuba with funding from the US Agency for International Development.

Boko Haram, the radical Muslim group, abducted more than 200 girls from a Nigerian village more than two months ago, sparking international outrage and a multinational search effort.

The group, which first emerged in 2001, has become increasingly brutal in its tactics over the years, and had been blamed for numerous bloody attacks, including one this week in four northeast Nigerian villages in which hundreds of people were feared killed.

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