Two Globe and Mail reporters have been released after being held for three hours in Cairo by the Egyptian military, part of an apparent campaign to round up journalists.
Reporters and other foreigners were detained by soldiers, possibly for their own protection, on Thursday after some came under attack from supporters of President Hosni Mubarak who have been assaulting anti-government protesters.
The Globe's Sonia Verma and Patrick Martin were detained shortly before 8 a.m. ET. The correspondents, along with their driver, were scooped up at a checkpoint by men in civilian clothes who seized their passports, Ms. Verma said. After learning they were journalists, one of the men commandeered their car and directed their driver to head to another part of the downtown.
Ms. Verma and Mr. Martin were taken to an outdoor area in a military-controlled zone where some two dozen other foreigners, including tourists, were being held. Armed soldiers searched their bags and forced Ms. Verma and Mr. Martin to hand over their cellphones.
When the Canadian reporters asked why they were being detained, they were told it was because the military was "planning a large operation," Ms. Verma said. Soldiers also said they were keeping their passports because they were looking into their backgrounds.
The Globe journalists were released unharmed after being held for three hours. The other foreigners were also released.
"They're shaking our hand and telling us 'We are sorry'," Ms. Verma said by phone as she and Mr. Martin were being freed.
Meanwhile, an Associated Press reporter saw eight foreign journalists detained by the military near the prime minister's office, not far from Tahrir Square, the scene of battles between Mubarak backers and protesters demanding he step down after nearly 30 years in power.
Two New York Times reporters were released Thursday after being detained overnight, the newspaper said. Two Washington Post staffers were also detained and released on Thursday.
Mr. Mubarak's supporters stormed hotels in Cairo, chasing foreign journalists, Al-Arabiya TV said. CBC reporter David Common said via Twitter that demonstrators chanted "get them out" while pointing at a hotel full of journalists.
Foreign journalists reported a string of attacks on them Thursday morning by Mubarak supporters. One Greek print journalist was stabbed in the leg with a screwdriver and a Greek freelance photographer was punched in the face by a group of men who stopped him on the street near Tahrir Square and smashed some of his equipment.
Reuters television said one of its crews was beaten up on Thursday close to Tahrir Square while filming a piece about shops and banks being forced to shut during the clashes.
The CBC's Margaret Evans said she was stopped by soldiers who confiscated her audio recorder. She also said secret police are searching hotel rooms to stop journalists from taking pictures of Tahrir Square from balconies.
Al-Arabiya, the Arabic-language satellite channel, pleaded on an urgent news scroll for the army to protect its offices and journalists.
The U.S. State Department condemned what it called a concerted campaign to intimidate journalists covering the protests in Egypt.
"There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in Cairo and interfere with their reporting. We condemn such actions," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement issued via Twitter on Thursday.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said the attacks on journalists were a government attempt at "blanket censorship" and intimidation.
"The Egyptian government is employing a strategy of eliminating witnesses to their actions," Mohamed Abdel Dayem, Middle East and North Africa coordinator of the New York based watchdog, said in a statement late Wednesday.
The CPJ said the violence included what it said were plainclothes police attacking the offices of a Cairo newspaper and attacks and harassment of foreign journalists.
Government spokesman Magdy Rady said Wednesday that the assertion of state involvement in street clashes and attacks on reporters was a "fiction," and that the government welcomed objective coverage.
"It would help our purpose to have it as transparent as possible. We need your help," Mr. Rady said. However, he said some media were not impartial and were "taking sides against Egypt."
The Qatar-based pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera said on a news scroll that two of its correspondents had been attacked by "thugs." It didn't say when the attack took place or how badly they were hurt.
Egyptian authorities shut Al-Jazeera's office on Sunday, complaining its round-the-clock coverage was slanted toward protesters and could encourage more unrest. The station denounced that closure as an attempt to muzzle open reporting.
ABC News international correspondent Christiane Amanpour said that on Wednesday her car was surrounded by men banging on the sides and windows, and a rock was thrown through the windshield, shattering glass on the occupants. They escaped without injury.
CNN's Anderson Cooper said he, a producer and camera operator were set upon by people who began punching them and trying to break their camera. Another CNN reporter, Hala Gorani, said she was shoved against a fence when demonstrators rode in on horses and camels and feared she would be trampled.
There were also reported assaults Wednesday on journalists for CBC's all-French RDI network, CBS, the BBC, Belgium's Le Soir newspaper, Danish TV2 News and Swiss television. Two Associated Press correspondents were also roughed up.
Meanwhile, Vodafone says Egyptian authorities forced it to broadcast pro-government messages during the protests that have rocked the North African nation.
Micro-blogging site Twitter has been buzzing with screen grabs from Vodafone's Egyptian customers showing pro-government text messages sent to them in the run-up to the violent clashes in central Cairo which broke out on Wednesday.
Vodafone Group PLC said in a statement Thursday that Egyptian authorities have been using the country's emergency laws to script text messages to its customers. The U.K.-based company said it had no ability to change the content of the messages. It called the practice "unacceptable" and said it has protested to Egypt's authorities.
Canada's foreign minister on Thursday urged Canadians to leave Egypt, and said Canada will keep trying to evacuate its citizens from the country.
"The Canadian government advises all Canadian citizens in Egypt that we plan to continue evacuation efforts today," Foreign Minister Laurence Cannon said in a statement. "We strongly urge all Canadians to leave Egypt."
Canada has chartered planes for Canadians wishing to leave Egypt, and has also found seats for Canadians on planes chartered by other Western nations.
With reports from The Associated Press and Reuters
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