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Protesters defy curfew - Egypt

by Byo24NEWS
28 Jan 2011 at 23:23hrs | Views
Thousands of protesters in the Egyptian cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez have defied a nighttime curfew and continued with demonstrations demanding an end to Hosni Mubarak's 30-year presidency.

Military armoured vehicles rolled onto the streets of the capital on Friday night in a bid to quell the protests, but buildings have been set alight, and violent clashes continue after a day of unprecedented anger.

A building belonging to the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) was torched, and reports of looting have also emerged in numerous government buildings. According to the Associated Press, thousands of protesters had also stormed the foreign ministry.

Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Cairo said that several police vehicles were also set ablaze, and firefighters did not appear to be on the streets.

Friday's demonstrations involving tens of thousands of people were the biggest and bloodiest in four consecutive days of protests against Hosni Mubarak's government.

Correspondent Rawya Rageh, reporting from the port city of Alexandria, said that protesters there were also defying the curfew.

At least 870 people were wounded during Friday's protests some in a serious condition with bullet wounds, medical sources said.

Police officers were also wounded, but numbers were not immediately clear, the sources told Reuters news agency. There was no official confirmation of the figures.

As darkness fell, tracked armoured cars took up positions in key cities.

"The armed forces started to deploy forces in the governorates of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez as a first stage in implementing the decree...imposing a curfew starting from 6pm," state media reported.

Some 2,000-3,000 people thronged around a military vehicle near Cairo's Tahrir square, a Reuters witness said. They climbed on it, shaking hands with the soldiers, and chanted: "The army and the people are united" and "The revolution has come".

Shots were heard near parliament and the headquarters of the ruling party was in flames, the blaze lighting up the night sky.

In the eastern city of Suez, site of the strategically crucial canal, armoured cars deployed in front of the charred remains of a police station, a Reuters witness said.

Dozens of protesters climbed on the military vehicles in Suez. They talked to soldiers who attempted to wave them off.

The unrest was triggered by the overthrow two weeks ago of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in an uprising that has also inspired anti-government protests in Yemen and elsewhere.

In Washington, secretary of state Hillary Clinton said the US government was "deeply concerned" by the violence used by the security forces against the protesters and she urged the government to restrain them. Protesters should be allowed to express themselves peacefully, she said.

Friday evening marked the first time the army had been put onto the streets. It was not immediately clear what role it would play or how troops would react to the protesters.

"The army is a respected establishment in Egypt, and many feel they need their support against what they see as excessive force by the police and security forces," Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin said.

However, Hosni Mubarak ordered troops to back up police as they struggled to control crowds who continue to flood the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities.

But in a sign of escalating tensions, fires and thick black smoke have been seen across parts of Cairo.

Protesters often quickly dispersed and regrouped.

Some held banners saying: "Everyone against one" and chanted "Peaceful peaceful peaceful, no violence." Others threw shoes at and stamped on posters of Mubarak.

As clashes intensified, police waded into the crowds with batons and fired volleys of tear gas.

Government crackdown

Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog and an opposition leader in Egypt, was briefly detained by police after he prayed at a mosque in the Giza area but he later took part in a march with supporters.

The countrywide violence has so far left seven people dead.

In response, the government had vowed to crack down on demonstrations and arrest those participating in them. It had blocked internet, mobile phone and SMS services in order to disrupt the planned demonstrations.

Before Egypt shut down internet access on Thursday night, activists were posting and exchanging messages using social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter, listing more than 30 mosques and churches where protesters were to organise on Friday.

It is far from a foregone conclusion that the protesters will force Mubarak out. They face two key challenges, said Amon Aran, a Middle East expert at London's City University, told Reuters news agency.

"One is the Egyptian security apparatus, which over the years has developed a vested interest in the survival of President Mubarak's regime. This elaborate apparatus has demonstrated over the past few days that it is determined to crush political dissent," he said.

"Another obstacle derives from the fact that, so far, the protesters do not seem to form a coherent political opposition.

The popular outcry is loud and clear, but whether it can translate into a political force is questionable."

Source - Byo24NEWS