CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian riot police fired rubber bullets at protesters who had promised a “Friday of Wrath” in Cairo to demand the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule as part of a wave of unrest gripping the Middle East.
Angry protesters gathered in a neighborhood near a residential palace belonging to Mubarak, and in other areas of the city police used teargas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators. Tens of thousands were demonstrating across the nation, witnesses said.
Protesters shouted “Down, Down, Hosni Mubarak” and stamped on posters of the president after Friday prayers, witnesses said.
Vodafone group said all mobile operators in Egypt had been instructed to suspend services in selected areas, in what activists said was an effort to stop anti-Mubarak demonstrators from communicating and organizing.
Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Laureate who has called for an end to Mubarak’s rule, had joined prayers involving about 2,000 people and al Jazeera said he had not been allowed to leave the area.
The worshippers were surrounded by police while praying in a square just outside a mosque in the Giza area of Cairo.
“The people want the end of the regime,” they started shouting once prayers were complete.
“Leave, leave, Mubarak, Mubarak, the plane awaits you,” they chanted in the protests, which were inspired by a revolt in Tunisia.
The Tunisian president of 23 years, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia on January 14 after a month of protests.
Egyptians have staged mass protests since Tuesday and hundreds have been arrested.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including at least eight senior officials of the opposition group and its main spokesmen, were rounded up overnight. A security source said authorities had ordered a crackdown on the group.
Young protesters want an end to Mubarak’s authoritarian rule that has used heavy-handed security to crush dissenters who complain about unemployment, inflation and corruption which have created a huge gap between rich and poor.
The same complaints about corruption and poverty can be heard across the region and have prompted protests in countries like Algeria and Yemen.
“Inflation has exhausted people. Prices of food, fuel, electricity, sugar are rising … The rich get richer and the poor poorer,” said a taxi driver, declining to be named.
“God knows what will happen today. After Tunisia anything is possible.”
The Internet via Egyptian servers was blocked across the country shortly after midnight, closing a key tool for activists relying on social media networks.
Mobile phone and text messaging services also appeared to be disabled or working sporadically.
Facebook has been the main vehicle for announcing Friday’s protest and identifying locations for demonstrations.
The government has accused the Muslim Brotherhood of planning to exploit the youth protests for its “hidden agendas.” The Brotherhood says it is being used as a scapegoat.
Security forces shot dead a protester in the north of the Sinai region on Thursday, bringing the death toll to five.
(Additional reporting by Dina Zayed, Sherine El Madany and Marwa Awad in Cairo, Alexander Dziadosz in Suez; Writing by Edmund Blair and Alison Williams, editing by Peter Millership and Sonya Hepinstall)
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