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Europeans urge Egypt to protect journalists

world Updated: Feb 04, 2011 22:09 IST

The UN's top human rights official and a chorus of European nations on Friday condemned attacks on reporters covering pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt, while TV station Al-Jazeera announced its offices had been stormed and burned and its website hacked.

The Qatar-based satellite station, widely watched in the Middle East, portrayed Friday's attack as an attempt by Egypt's regime or its supporters to hinder Al-Jazeera's coverage of the uprising in Egypt. It said the office was burned along with the equipment inside it.

Last week, Egyptian authorities closed Al-Jazeera's Cairo office, revoked the credentials of Al-Jazeera reporters and detained several of them for various periods.

Al-Jazeera also said a banner advertisement on its Arabic-language site was taken down for more than two hours early today and replaced with a slogan reading "Together for the collapse of Egypt" which linked to a page criticising the network.

"Our website has been under relentless attack since the onset of the uprisings in Egypt," a statement from Al-Jazeera said. "While the deliberate attacks this morning were an attempt to discredit us, we will continue our impartial and comprehensive coverage of these unprecedented events."

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based media watchdog, on Thursday said that it had recorded 24 detentions of journalists, 21 assaults and five cases in which equipment was taken away over a 24-hour period. Among those detained have been correspondents for The New York Times and Washington Post.

Foreign photographers reported attacks by supporters of President Hosni Mubarak near Tahrir Square in central Cairo, the focal point of increasingly violent mass demonstrations demanding the Egyptian leader step down after 30 years in power.

In Geneva, the UN's high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, called the detentions of journalists "clearly a blatant attempt to stifle news."

She said "one of the prime drivers of this chaos seems to have been the actions of Egypt's security and intelligence services" and called for an end to violence and an investigation into whether it was planned.