Navi Pillay-Reuters-January 19, 2011
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay Photo by Reuters
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The U.N. human rights chief said on Tuesday she had unconfirmed reports that up to 300 people may have been killed and over 3,000 injured in the unrest that has engulfed Egypt for the past week.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, was appalled by reported death toll and injury count, saying, "I urge the Egyptian authorities to ensure police and other security forces scrupulously avoid excessive use of force."

Pillay urged investigations into the role of security forces during the violence and their sudden disappearance from the streets of Cairo, leaving what she described as a "security vacuum."

"People must not be arbitrarily detained, simply for protesting or for expressing their political opinions, however unwelcome those opinions may be to those in power," she added.

The UN's top human rights official praised the protest movement in Egypt on Tuesday and called on authorities to change a system that encourages abuses of the country's people, in an unusually frank call from a UN official.

"The whole world is watching how the president and the reconfigured government will react to the continuing protests demanding a radical change," the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said in a statement.

Pillay continued, "the population appears to be clearly rejecting a system that has deprived people of fundamental rights, and has committed a range of serious abuses, including widespread acts of torture."

Thousands of people have gathered on the streets of Cairo to demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, who is blamed for ignoring the needs of the poor and allowing corruption and official abuse to run rampant during his nearly 30 years in power.

Pillay said the Egyptian government should stop interfering with communications, internet and transport systems, as well as news organizations covering the protests.

The human rights chief called for calm during Tuesday's protests, in what she deemed to be a potentially "pivotal moment".