Egypt's vice president offers concessions as street battles spill out of Cairo square , 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

A demonstrator protects his head during clashes with Mubarak supporters. (Mohammed Abed, AFP/Getty Images / February 3, 2011)
Egypt's vice president offers concessions as street battles spill out of Cairo square
Fighting spreads out of Tahrir Square as the army tries to separate factions. Anti-government protesters set Friday as a deadline for President Hosni Mubarak to step down. Foreign journalists face intimidation by suspected pro-Mubarak forces.
By Laura King, Timothy M. Phelps and Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times

February 3, 2011, 11:36 a.m.
Reporting from Cairo —
As volleys of gunfire echoed through the heart of Egypt's capital, senior government officials on Thursday offered a flurry of political concessions, seeking to placate protesters on the eve of a potentially explosive new confrontation between supporters and opponents of President Hosni Mubarak.

Street battles raged for hours near the banks of the Nile River, with anti-Mubarak demonstrators spilling out of their stronghold of nearby Tahrir Square and pushing back pro-Mubarak elements who had attacked the plaza a day earlier. The army moved decisively for the first time to separate the rival camps, but its efforts were often ineffectual. Fierce fighting spilled into surrounding streets.

Amid an accelerating breakdown of law and order across the city, protesters described Friday, the main prayer day of the Muslim week, as the deadline for the embattled president to step aside.

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Mubarak has refused to do so, though he has said he will not seek reelection in September. But protest leaders insist he must go now.

Speaking on state television, Mubarak's newly appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman, appeared to reach out to the protesters, thanking them for initiating a push for reform and reiterating an offer to negotiate with the Muslim Brotherhood, a driving force behind the protest movement. Suleiman also said Mubarak's son, Gamal, whom many expected the president to try to install as his heir, would not contest the elections either.

And in unusual move, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq publicly apologized for Wednesday's violence, saying its instigators would be punished. "This issue will not be forgotten, will not go away just like that," said Shafiq.

The government has denied involvement in Wednesday's seemingly well-coordinated onslaught by pro-Mubarak partisans against protesters camped in the square. Leaders of the protest contend that the attacking force included plainclothes police, common criminals and paid thugs.

Signaling a widening campaign of intimidation, suspected pro-Mubarak elements on Thursday targeted foreign journalists, roughing up some reporters while dozens of others were detained by authorities. That crackdown followed assertions by state-run television that the foreign press has been unduly sympathetic to the protest movement.

Foreign tourists and residents continued to flee in the thousands, braving a gantlet of vigilante checkpoints to get to the international airport.

Unlike the generally friendly neighborhood patrols that appeared earlier this week, some of the new checkpoints were manned by angry young men who swarmed around cars they considered suspicious. At one such checkpoint, men in civilian clothes forced three foreigners out of their car and searched their bags and the car trunk. They demanded to inspect passports and searched for cameras.

"Foreigners have been stirring up a lot of trouble here," said a uniformed police officer who was supervising the young men at one downtown checkpoint.

Thursday's street battles were smaller in scope than those a day earlier, but were nonetheless fierce — and frightening for those caught up in the clashes.

The army had attempted to keep the two sides apart, planting tanks and soldiers in the no-man's land between enemy lines. But the protesters' shift out of Tahrir Square onto open ground near the Nile greatly complicated the military's task. Bound by the army's pledge not to fire on protesters, soldiers trying to keep order were at times reduced to trying to wave combatants away.

Pro-Mubarak forces roamed freely in many neighborhoods, particularly the downtown business district. Groups of men armed with sticks and cudgels were seen confiscating food and water apparently meant for the square's defenders.

Protest organizers, in turn, said they had detained dozens of pro-Mubarak attackers who infiltrated the square, turning a travel agency in the square into a temporary holding center. But rough justice was sometimes dispensed on the spot for suspected provocateurs.

"No, no, I'm one of you!" a panicked man cried out in protest as he was seized by a crowd of anti-government demonstrators, who set upon him with fists and sticks. Protesters set up a small exhibition of what they said were police IDs seized from some of those who attacked the square.

In incongruous scenes, some protesters in the square prostrated themselves in prayer while a hail of rocks fell nearby. On the plaza's fringes, men smashed railings to make metal clubs. Some of the combatants donned motorcycle or bicycle helmets to protect their heads from stones.

In the late afternoon, pops of gunfire rang out, followed by a barrage of machine-gun fire. Most men stood their ground as the two sides battled over a highway overpass that served as high ground for the pro-Mubarak forces to stage attacks. But others retreated, unnerved by the crackle of bullets.

Organizers banged metal pipes and fences as a call to arms, and dozens rushed forward with bags of rocks and metal shields. Some flung firebombs toward the pro-Mubarak forces.

A group rushed by carrying a body bleeding from the leg. "It's a gunshot wound," they shouted as they scrambled through the debris to an outdoor triage center.

The outbreak of fratricidal rage dismayed some.

"I am angry because Egyptians are fighting Egyptians," said one man with the thick beard of an observant Muslim. "For what? For nothing."

As night fell, more security checkpoints sprang up on the edges of the square. Young men brandished wooden clubs. And for another night, protesters laid down cardboard on which to sleep.