PARIS, Feb 1 (Reuters) - The United Nations agency in charge of cultural heritage appealed to Egypt on Tuesday to protect its myriad treasures after news that looters destroyed two Pharaonic mummies last week during anti-government protests.
The appeal by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) came as protesters demanding the departure of President Hosni Mubarak mounted the biggest street demonstration since the uprising began a week ago.
“I solemnly request that all necessary measures be taken to safeguard Egypt’s treasures, in Cairo, Luxor and in all the other cultural and historical sites around the country,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said in a statement.
Looters who broke into the Egyptian Museum in Cairo late on Friday destroyed two Pharaonic mummies, according to Egypt’s top archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, chairman of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.
The galleries and storerooms of the two-storey museum, built in 1902, house the world’s biggest collection of Pharaonic antiquities and most of the King Tutankhamen collection.
“The value of the 120,000 pieces in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is inestimable, not only in scientific or financial terms, but because they represent the Egyptian people’s cultural identity,” said the UNESCO statement.
“The proof: hundreds of citizens spontaneously formed a chain around the museum to protect it.”
The Paris-based U.N. agency also said it was worried about a crackdown on the media and curbs on free flow of information. Internet services had been cut and journalists harassed or beaten, UNESCO said.
“It is crucial that both national and foreign press be allowed to perform their duty of informing the public from an objective perspective,” said the director-general. (Reporting by Brian Love; Editing by Janet Lawrence)