Thursday, February 3, 2011

Army rounds up journalists amid Cairo chaos

Army rounds up journalists amid Cairo chaos

Security officials enter the hotel room of CTV News staff in Cairo and confiscate camera and gear.

Security officials enter the hotel room of CTV News staff in Cairo and confiscate camera and gear.

Updated: Thu Feb. 03 2011 10:10:48 AM News Staff

The Egyptian army began to round up journalists Thursday, amid deteriorating conditions on the streets of Cairo where anti-government protesters continue to clash violently with supporters of President Hosni Mubarak.

The move to pull reporters off the streets came after a string of attacks on foreign journalists on Thursday.

Among the reported attacks was an incident in which a Greek print journalist was stabbed in the leg with a screwdriver and another in which a photographer was punched in the face and had his camera smashed by a group of men. Al-Jazeera reported that two of its staff reporters had been attacked by "thugs." A Reuters television crew was also reportedly beaten up.

Sonia Verma, a reporter with Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper, reported via Twitter that she and some colleagues been taken "into some kind of custody" by the military.

The Globe and Mail website reports that the military seized the passports of the newspaper employees and "commandeered" their car.

It is not immediately clear if the army was pulling the journalists off the streets for their own protection, or for other reasons.

But CTV's Lisa LaFlamme said it appeared the army was trying to keep the journalists safe amid the chaos.

LaFlamme said a Toronto Star reporter had been escorted back to her hotel by the military, which is recognizing that Western journalists are being targeted by rioters.

The situation has become so dangerous that staff in hotels surrounding Cairo's Tahrir Square have confiscated the cameras of journalists -- including the equipment used by LaFlamme and her crew -- to prevent their businesses from becoming targeted as well.

The U.S. State Department condemned the "concerted campaign to intimidate" foreign journalists in Egypt.

Cracking down on violence

The Egyptian army also took steps Thursday to halt the advance of pro-government rioters into a square in central Cairo where thousands of protesters have spent days holding demonstrations against the Mubarak regime.

LaFlamme said the army was using tear gas and gunshots to try to disperse the groups of people fighting on the streets.

Earlier Thursday, the army placed soldiers directly in between the two groups, who have been in an unrelenting battle on the streets of Cairo for the past 24 hours.

Reporters have seen sticks, stones, petrol bombs, bottles and other projectiles thrown between the two groups, as the street clashes have raged on the edges of Tahrir Square -- the centre of the ongoing protests by thousands of Egyptians who want Mubarak to leave office immediately.

LaFlamme said at least 10,000 determined anti-government protesters remain inside Tahrir Square, as pro-Mubarak forces continue to try to push their way into the area.

The anti-government protesters blame Mubarak for many economic and social problems that have afflicted Egypt during his 30-year rule.

A divided population

Janice Gross Stein, the director of the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, said that despite the widespread protests, Mubarak still holds support with some Egyptians.

"There's a group in Cairo, a large group really who feel that there has to be a stable transition, they do not want him (Mubarak) forced out. He has considerable support in the rural areas," Stein told CTV's Canada AM during an interview in Toronto on Thursday.

"So there's a real division. There is a rural-urban division, there is an upper class-lower class division and you see all of that playing out in those clashes in the square."

Many anti-government protesters believe the Mubarak regime has paid supporters to enter Tahrir Square and cause havoc on the streets.

The Egyptian government appeared to acknowledge that the pro-Mubarak protesters had gone too far when Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq went on television Thursday to apologize for the attacks on the anti-government protesters.

In remarks broadcast on Egyptian television, Shafiq said it was a "blatant mistake" to see Mubarak supporters attacking the anti-government protesters and he promised to investigate who was behind the provocations.

"I offer my apology for everything that happened yesterday because it's neither logical nor rational," Shafiq said. "What happened was wrong, a million per cent wrong, whether it was deliberate or not deliberate ... Everything that happened yesterday will be investigated so everyone knows who was behind it."

Prior to the apology issued by Shafiq, Egypt's Interior Ministry had publicly stated that its police were not involved in the clashes.

Canadian concerns

The deteriorating conditions in Egypt have prompted Canada's Foreign Affairs department to leave the country immediately.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon issued a statement early Thursday advising Canadians that Ottawa plans to continue evacuation efforts in Egypt today.

"All remaining Canadian citizens who wish to depart Egypt on a Canadian government chartered flight and who are able to do so should immediately proceed to the airport, Terminal 1, Departures area, as soon as possible on February 3," Cannon said in the statement.

"We strongly urge all Canadians to leave Egypt."

The House of Commons held an emergency debate in Ottawa on Wednesday night, so that parliamentarians could voice their concerns about what is happening in Egypt.

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said that Canada was slow to respond to the events in Egypt, which he attributed to under-resourced consular offices.

"Canada consistently finds itself under-resourced without enough people on the ground and without a sufficiently determined response time from the government in Ottawa," Rae said.

The United Nations announced Thursday it was evacuating 350 staff and their families from Egypt, "due to the security situation."

UN spokesperson Rolando Gomez said some staff will remain in Egypt to carry out "essential functions."

With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Pres

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