Ban Ki-moon said political leaders must protect protesters’ human rights and respect their freedom of expression.Ban Ki-moon urges political leaders to respect protesters’ human rights, protect their freedom of expressionKofi Annan says unrest shows there is a serious need for change in the regionThousands took to streets of Cairo Friday to call for an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-rule
(CNN) — U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged embattled leaders in the Middle East and North Africa to listen to the wishes of their own people, as civil unrest spreads across the region.
Thousands of people took to the streets of Cairo on Friday to call for an end to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian 30-year rule.
The demonstrations came after similar anti-government protests in Tunisia toppled President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Ban told CNN he was concerned at the growing potential for violence, and had called on political leaders to act responsibly.
“Leaders have a … responsibility to listen more attentively to the challenges and wishes of their own people,” he said, urging them to “provide decent jobs and opportunities to engage more constructively in their social and political life — this is what has been lacking.
“I have been urging the authorities, first of all, that freedom of expression, freedom of association should be fully respected, and they should also protect the human rights of those people.”
Ban said he hoped the region’s leaders would see the situation “as an opportunity to heed their own people’s wishes,” and called on them to preserve democracy and restore peace and stability.
His predecessor as U.N. chief, Kofi Annan, told CNN it was “too quick” to say if the protests would spread further in the coming weeks.
“What is important is that people are clamoring for democracy and the right to participate in government.
“These are signs that there is a need for serious changes in these countries, and the leaders have to take that on board and respond appropriately,” he said.
“We need to be careful that some leaders may think ‘It’s time to calm down — you give an inch and you will be overwhelmed’ — that approach will not work.“It’s gone beyond that and I think they need to find a way of working out [the] changes that are required.”