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HARARE, Zimbabwe (Reuters) -- A coalition of Zimbabwean civic groups Monday condemned President Robert Mugabe's government as a "ruthless and intolerant regime" over the closure of a pro-opposition daily newspaper.

In a statement, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said the banning of the southern African country's only private daily newspaper was a blow against democracy, and civic activists would soon launch a campaign to revive the newspaper.

A government-appointed media commission last Friday denied a license to the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), saying the group had been found guilty by the courts of publishing the Daily News for nearly nine months without registration.

The commission's decision came a week after police shut down the Daily News following a ruling by the Supreme Court that the ANZ was operating illegally as it had not registered as required by tough media laws passed in 2002.

The Daily News, which began publishing in 1999, had refused to register in protest at the laws, introduced soon after Mugabe's controversial reelection as president last year.

Monday, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said Mugabe -- who is battling a severe economic crisis which his critics blame on government mismanagement -- had intensified a hostile campaign against the private press to silence dissent.

"The banning of the Daily News constitutes the ruling party's most serious attack yet upon freedom of expression and media freedom," it said in a statement read by the coalition's coordinator, Brian Raftopoulos.

"It is the action of a ruthless and intolerant regime," said the coalition, which groups various rights organizations.

At the same press conference, ANZ legal adviser Gugulethu Moyo said police Monday had charged four directors of the newspaper group with publishing a newspaper without a license, and seized more equipment from the Daily News offices during a search for documents.

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said Mugabe's government had banned the Daily News to deprive Zimbabweans of an alternative voice to "the virulent propaganda" disseminated by the state-controlled media.

There are other independent publications in Zimbabwe, but the Daily News has been the main vehicle for criticism of Mugabe's government.

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