Pakistan's Sesame Street US funding is withdrawn

The BBC's Orla Guerin visited the show's set at the time of its launch in 2011

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Funding for the Pakistani version of the children's TV series Sesame Street is being withdrawn, US officials in Islamabad have said.

A US development agency has begun an investigation into allegations of corruption against a Pakistani partner organisation.

The organisation, Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, denies the claims.

The US had already committed $6.7m (£4.3m) to develop the programme, which was first broadcast six months ago.

Sim Sim Hamara aimed to teach basic literacy and numeracy skills, as well as provide a vehicle for spreading tolerance and mutual respect.

The show was due to run for four years.

Fraud hotline

The agency that awarded the contract, US Agency for International Development (USAID), told the BBC that it began an investigation after receiving allegations of fraud via a hotline.

A spokesman for USAID said the agreement was terminated while the investigation was underway. The initial funding for the programme totalled $20m.

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad said Tuesday's announcement came soon after a Pakistani newspaper alleged the family theatre group that produces the series had been involved in corruption.

Speaking to the BBC from Lahore, where the programme is made, Faizaan Peerzada, one of the group's managers, dismissed such claims as baseless.

"This is a reputable family who has done work in very difficult times and I think these claims are false and my legal cell has already served notice to the journalist who has printed this false and ridiculous story," Mr Peerzada said.

A woman puts the finishing touches to some of Pakistan's Sesame Street characters  The Pakistani show features a host of new characters

The theatre group says it hopes to find funding from elsewhere, but if it cannot the series will come to an end.

Sesame Workshop, which produces Sesame Street in the US, worked with the theatre group on the show.

In a statement, the organisation said it was "surprised and dismayed to learn about the serious allegations".

"We trust that the facts will be fairly and fully assessed, and we will wait for the full report. It is our hope that the achievements of Sim Sim Hamara, and the gains we have made in the lives of children in Pakistan, will carry on."

Sesame Workshop provided "its expertise in children's media" to Rafi Peer as part of the USAID project.

Characters like the red monster Elmo, a well-known figure worldwide, were seen as potential cultural ambassadors.

The American version of Sesame Street first aired in 1969. The US government has since worked with the company to produce shows in about 20 foreign countries.

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