GENEVA Egypt's government must protect peaceful protesters and prosecute anyone inciting violence, including politicians, U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said on Thursday.
"People have the right to protest peacefully and they have the right not to be killed or injured for doing so," she said.
"The current government came to power on the back of similar protests and so should be particularly sensitive to the need to protect protesters' rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly."
Seven people died in fierce overnight clashes between crowds for and against Egypt's Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, who has inflamed the opposition with a decree extending his powers and - according to Pillay - breaking a key human rights treaty by putting himself beyond the reach of the law.
Hundreds of Mursi's supporters who had camped out near the presidential palace overnight withdrew before a mid-afternoon deadline set by the Republican Guard. Dozens of Mursi's foes remained, but were kept away by a barbed wire barricade guarded by tanks.
"The government has a duty to protect peaceful demonstrators and also to prohibit the use of hate speech and prosecute people who use it wilfully in order to incite violence, including politicians, public officials and their supporters," Pillay said.
She said she was deeply disturbed by reports of journalists being attacked.
"Several have been injured and one, Mr. Al-Hosseiny Abu Deif, has reportedly died in hospital after receiving a shot to the head in the early hours of this morning," Pillay added.
"This is not only a devastating tragedy for him and his family, it is also a chilling blow to freedom of expression in Egypt."
(Reporting by Tom Miles; editing by Andrew Roche)