The Egyptian government broadened its crackdown on Thursday to the international news media and human rights workers, in an apparent effort to remove witnesses to the battle with antigovernment protesters. With fighting between anti- and pro-government forces escalating throughout the day, armed supporters of President Hosni Mubarak attacked foreign journalists, punching them and smashing their equipment. Men who protesters said were plainclothes police officers shut down news media outlets that had been operating in buildings overlooking Tahrir Square.
An informal center set up by human rights workers in the square was seized, and a group of journalists was stopped in their car near the square by a gang of men with knives and briefly turned over to the military police, ostensibly for their protection. Two reporters working for The New York Times were released on Thursday after being detained overnight in Cairo. Two Washington Post staffers were among two dozen journalists detained by the Interior Ministry Thursday morning, the paper reported.
The concerted effort to remove journalists lent a sense of foreboding to events in the square, where battles continued between the protesters and the Mubarak supporters, who human rights workers and protesters say are being paid and organized by the government. People bringing food, water and medicine to the protesters in the square were being stopped by Mubarak supporters, who confiscated what they had and threw some of it into the Nile.
In the afternoon, the fighting spread beyond the square to the October 6th Bridge, which rises above the Egyptian Museum. Shots were heard, and a surgeon assisting the antigovernment protesters said three people were killed. “It was the police or the army, we don’t know,” said the surgeon, Mohamed Ezz. “Only they have guns.” That followed a night of gunfire and a day of mayhem Wednesday that left at least five dead and more than 800 wounded in a battle for the Middle East’s most populous nation. With the violence rising, the United Nations ordered the evacuation of much of its staff on Thursday, while more than 4,000 passengers made their escape through Cairo airport, The Associated Press reported.