Egyptian Forces Detain Reporters as Clashes Erupt ,Demonstrations in Egypt

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Egyptian Forces Detain Reporters as Clashes Erupt

February 03, 2011, 2:33 PM EST

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Feb. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Egyptian security forces detained journalists and charity workers, and confiscated equipment as fighting broke out again today in Tahrir Square, where the army set up a barrier after more than 800 people were injured in yesterday’s clashes, according to international groups.

“The regime has decided to target media personnel physically by unleashing its supporters in an unprecedented campaign of hatred and violence,” secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders Jean-François Julliard said in a statement, titled “All Out Witch Hunt.” They are trying to rid Cairo of “all journalists working for foreign news media.”

Supporters of President Hosni Mubarak stormed hotels in the capital searching for journalists, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya television channels reported today. Many members of the foreign press have been staying near Tahrir Square, the focus of nine consecutive days of protests aimed at forcing Mubarak to resign.

Egypt has sought to curb the flow of information since rallies began. Authorities on Jan. 29 cut off access to the Internet for five days, and mobile services were down for at least two. Al Jazeera said it had to switch its transmission to another frequency as its signal on Nilesat was jammed. The detentions and violence against journalists are an extension of that campaign of censorship, the campaign groups said.

No Witnesses

The New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists described the attacks as an effort to “eliminate witnesses” of the protests that the United Nations says has left about 300 people dead and many more wounded since it began.

Gypsy Guillén Kaiser, spokeswoman for the CPJ, said in a phone interview that the group is looking into “multiple reports of dozens being arrested today.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs condemned the targeting of reporters, describing it as “completely and totally unacceptable.”

Among the journalists detained in Cairo since Feb. 2 are three France 24 television channel employees, the CFDT labor union said. The union called on France’s government to contact Egyptian authorities to seek their release. Journalists working for Time Warner Inc.’s CNN and Canada’s state-owned Radio Canada are among at least 11, who reported being assaulted yesterday.

Several aid workers were detained in raids on the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, an Egyptian law firm based in Cairo and Aswan, including one working for Amnesty International and another for Human Rights Watch.

--Editors: Digby Lidstone, Andrew J. Barden.

To contact the reporter on this story: Caroline Alexander in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at

Update at 10:57 a.m. ET: Embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak tells ABC's Christiane Amanpour today that he would like to step down but that "if I resign today there will be chaos."

"I don't care what people say about me," he tells Amanpour in a 20-minute interview. "Right now I care about my country, I care about Egypt."

As for the clashes on the streets of Cairo on Wednesday, he says: "I was very unhappy about yesterday. I do not want to see Egyptians fighting each other."

For details on full ABC News interview click here.

Earlier posting: New Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman rejects demands for President Hosni Mubarak's resignation, saying it would be "a call to chaos."

Such a resignation "is a very alien philosophy to the ideology of the people," he says. "We all respect the leader, Hosni Mubarak, and what he has offered the country over the past 30 years and the service he has rendered."

"To step down would be a call to chaos," he says.

Suleiman calls upon protesters to end their week-long demonstrations.

"Go back home," he says. "Leave the official to respond to your demands in order to save time."

Suleiman was appointed vice president last week by Mubarak in his first response to the outbreak of demonstrations demanding the president's ouster.

He says he has met with members of the outlawed opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as members of the youth movement that began last week's protests.

Update at 10:57 a.m. ET: The Washington Post says its Cairo bureau chief, Leila Fadel, and photographer, Linda Davidson, are among two dozen journalists arrested this morning by the Egyptian Interior Ministry.

"We understand that they are safe but in custody, and we have made urgent protests to Egyptian authorities in Cairo and Washington," says Douglas Jehl, the Post's foreign editor. "We've advised the State Department as well."

Update at 9:40 a.m. ET: Egypt state TV reports that President Hosni Mubarak's son, Gamal, will not seek the presidency.

The quashing of the prospect of Mubarak's 46-year-old son succeeding him would end the three-decade Mubarak dynasty whenever the president leaves office.

Al-Jazeera reports that Egypt's former interior minsiter, Habib Eladly, has been denied the right to leave the country and is being questioned about why security forces were removed from the streets of the country last Friday.

The withdrawal of police led to widespread looting last week.

Egypt's prime minister apologized repeatedly on public television today for attacks on anti-government protesters by armed groups bent on violence.

Clashes persist in Tahrir Square this afternoon, despite attempts by the military to separate pro- and anti-government demonstrators, USA TODAY's Theodore May reports from Cairo.

At least five people were killed and hundreds injured as pro-government forces pushed into the square Wednesday and early today, provoking clashes with protesters demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said he has ordered an investigation into the clashes Wednesday and said "any person or body responsible for them will be held accountable."

Shafiq said it was not clear whether the attacks were planned and organized but it was clear that the pro-Mubarak groups came to the square "with the intention to create violence and riot."

If the attacks were not planned, the prime minister asked, "who guided them to the area?"

"When investigations reveal who is behind this crime and who allowed it to happen, I promise they will be held accountable and will be punished for what they did," he said in a lengthy statement on state-owned TV.

Al-Jazeera reports that the military is more engaged today in trying to keep the crowds apart. The network says gunfire appears to be warning shots from the military above the heads of the protesters.

Some military vehicles have moved between the opposing groups around the square, but both sides have found a way around the obstacles to hurl rocks and firebombs at one another, May reports.