Cairo: An Egyptian reporter who was shot during clashes a week ago died of his wounds on Friday, his employer said, in the first reported death of a journalist in the chaos surrounding Egypt`s anti-government protests.
Ahmed Mohammed Mahmoud, 36, was taking photographs of fighting between protesters and security forces from the balcony of his home when he was shot on January 28, state-run newspaper Al-Ahram said on its website.
Mahmoud worked for Al-Taawun, a newspaper put out by the Al-Ahram publishing house. He lived near central Tahrir Square, the focal point of protest rallies as well as clashes this week between large crowds of supporters and opponents of President Hosni Mubarak.
The United Nations described brazen assaults on reporters that occurred during this week`s violence as an attempt to stifle coverage of anti-government protests. President Barack Obama said attacks on reporters, human rights workers and peaceful protesters in Egypt were "unacceptable”.
The Qatar-based television network Al-Jazeera said its offices in Cairo were set ablaze, along with the equipment inside it. The station announced later Friday that security forces arrested its Cairo bureau chief Abdel-Fattah Fayed and a correspondent Ahmed Youssef.
Mubarak supporters assaulted dozens of correspondents with virtual impunity in central Cairo this week with little intervention from nearby military units.
There were fewer reports of such attacks on Friday, when anti-government protesters staged a mostly peaceful rally in Tahrir Square.
The Egyptian government said reports of "an official policy against international media" were false, and that violence against journalists was unacceptable.
"International media have been, and are always, welcome in Egypt," said the state-run Cairo Press Centre, which oversees media accreditation. It said more than 1,000 international journalists were in the country.
"Regrettably, international journalists have been endangered by the same conditions that have threatened all Egyptians in areas of the country where there have been major disturbances and a breakdown of security," the centre said.
It said the Ministry of Information had worked with authorities to speed the release of those journalists who were detained.
The White House said it was working with the US embassy in Cairo on getting American journalists who have been beaten or detained out of Egypt.
Press secretary Robert Gibbs said the US government continues to receive disturbing reports about what he called a "very systematic targeting of journalists”.
On Friday, two correspondents for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who had just flown into Cairo were detained, the organisation said. It said one of the correspondents who was able to speak to another colleague reported that he believed they were being held in a police station.
A Swedish TV reporter, Bert Sundstrom of public broadcaster SVT, was in serious condition at a Cairo hospital after being stabbed in the back on Thursday.
CBS News said correspondent Lara Logan and cameramen Don Lee and Max McClellan were released after being held for a day by the Egyptian military, and were headed back to the United States.
In Geneva, the UN`s high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, called the detentions of journalists "a blatant attempt" to stifle news coverage.
"One of the prime drivers of this chaos seems to have been the actions of Egypt`s security and intelligence services," she said.
French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie condemned attacks on French media in Cairo and said she was "especially worried about the fate of three French journalists and a researcher about whom French authorities have no news."
The German Foreign Ministry said it summoned the Egyptian Ambassador to Berlin, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, to protest violence against demonstrators and journalists. Sweden and Denmark also condemned attacks on the media.
"We consider the oppression of mass media representatives working within the law to be unacceptable," said the Foreign Ministry of Russia, rated one of the world`s most dangerous countries for journalists.
Al-Jazeera also said its website was hacked — a banner advertisement on its Arabic-language site was taken down for more than two hours and replaced with a slogan reading "Together for the collapse of Egypt”.
The slogan provided a link to a page criticising the network.
"We will continue our impartial and comprehensive coverage of these unprecedented events," said Al-Jazeera. Last week, Egyptian authorities closed Al-Jazeera`s Cairo office, revoked the credentials of its reporters and detained several for various periods.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said Egyptian authorities should immediately reveal the whereabouts of more than 30 Egyptian and international human rights activists, lawyers and journalists arrested during in Cairo on Thursday.
The groups cited witnesses as saying a military escort took away the detainees.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said it had documented at least 101 direct attacks on journalists and news facilities this week, and that it was investigating numerous other reports.