* U.S. condemns assaults on press, says they must stop
* UK says harassment, Internet interference ‘unacceptable’
* Press watchdog blames government-orchestrated mobs
(Adds Clinton statement)
CAIRO/WASHINGTON, Feb 3 (Reuters) - The United States and Britain condemned the intimidation of foreign reporters covering protests against President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday and said the Egyptian government must not target journalists.
Angry men carjacked an ABC News crew and threatened to behead the journalists but the crew managed to talk its way free, the network said.
Reporters working for the New York Times and the Washington Post were detained on Wednesday and Thursday and freed within hours, their newspapers said. Three detained Al Jazeera journalists also were released, the Qatar-based network said.
Other media said their reporters had been beaten or stabbed in the violence that erupted between anti-government protesters and Mubarak supporters attempting to contain an uprising.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned assaults on American journalists in Cairo as concern rose about the possibility of an intensified round of rioting on Friday.
“This is a violation of international norms that guarantee freedom of the press and it is unacceptable under any circumstances,” she said, reading a statement.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based press watchdog, said the attacks were a deliberate effort by the government to censor the press coverage by using mobs to intimidate reporters.
Clinton said the Egyptian government and army have a clear responsibility to protect those targeted and reiterated U.S. demands that government and opposition representatives begin negotiations on a power transition. [ID:nN03271345]
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said acts to intimidate the media were “totally unacceptable” and called for the immediate release of any detained journalists as he restated the U.S. position that now is the time for political transition in Egypt. [ID:nN03288507]
The State Department said U.S. diplomats pressed Egypt’s government to help stop the violence against journalists.
Britain also criticized Egyptian government interference with the Internet and mobile networks.
“The abuse of Internet and mobile networks and, in particular, today’s increased intimidation and harassment of journalists are unacceptable and disturbing,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement. [ID:nLAL004629]
Mobile operator Vodafone (VOD.L), which was told by the government last week to switch off its network in Egypt after the protests broke out, accused the Egyptian authorities of using it to send pro-government text messages to subscribers. [ID:nLDE7121LT]
At least six people were killed and 800 wounded after gunmen and stick-wielding Mubarak supporters attacked demonstrators camped out for a 10th day on Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand Mubarak end his 30-year rule. [ID:nLDE712003]
CNN’s Anderson Cooper said he and his crew were punched and kicked in Cairo by Mubarak supporters and escaped with just scratches when anti-government protests turned deadly on Wednesday. [ID:nN02226988]
The Hilton hotel in Cairo has asked journalists not to film from its property due to the risk it could create for them and other guests, a Hilton spokeswoman said.
The Pentagon said officials were gathering details on the treatment of journalists in Egypt but declined to point the finger at the military.
“To date, we have seen them act professionally and with restraint,” said spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan. (Reporting by Edmund Blair; additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Phil Stewart, David Morgan and Tabassum Zakaria in Washington, and Adrian Croft in London; writing by Anthony Boadle; editing by Bill Trott)