Egyptians take to the streets for fifth day defying president, police
CAIRO – Tens of thousands of Egyptians Saturday snubbed Hosni Mubarak’s promised reforms and took their deadly revolt to the streets for a fifth day on Saturday, with dissident Mohamed ElBaradei vowing to press the embattled president until he goes.
Riots erupted anew in several cities, including Cairo, and an enraged mob killed three police in the Sinai town of Rafah, bringing the overall death toll from the nationwide protests to at least 48 since Tuesday.
Tens of thousands of angry citizens streamed into central Cairo’s Tahrir Square, one of the focal points for street battles that have raged around Egypt, chanting: “Mubarak out!” as troops looked on.
“We came here to say we don’t want you (Mubarak) at all; we want you out of the country,” lawyer Mohammed Osama, 25, told AFP as the army announced that a night-time curfew would be enforced and extended in key cities.
Police who have been battling protesters with tear gas, water cannon and rubber-coated bullets were largely absent after being overwhelmed by protesters on Friday, while tanks were deployed on the square and at strategic sites around the capital.
The government resigned, a measure Mubarak promised in a televised address just after midnight, and the president was due to appoint a new cabinet after stating firmly that he had no intention of stepping down.
Protesters have been demanding not only Mubarak’s departure but an end to endemic state corruption and police brutality that have become systematic under the president’s 30-year rule.
One key thing people will be watching is whether widely hated Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, who has been in office since 1997 and who is responsible for the security apparatus, will keep his job.
They dismissed the 82-year-old’s vague promises of reform as too little, too late, and seem to want nothing less than Mubarak’s departure.
Nobel Laureate ElBaradei, who has said he would be prepared to lead an eventual transition if asked, said he would join the street protests on Saturday to tell Mubarak he “must go.”
“President Mubarak did not understand the message of the Egyptian people,” ElBaradei told France 24 television. “His speech was totally disappointing. The protests will continue with even more intensity until the Mubarak regime falls.”
The banned Muslim Brotherhood, the most well-organised opposition group in the country, which did not throw its support behind the protests until Thursday, took the initiative on Saturday to call for a peaceful transfer of power through a transitional cabinet.
Fifty leaders of the Brotherhood were among more than 350 people arrested on Friday.
A curfew in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez that was largely ignored on Friday night was extended from 4:00 pm to 8:00 am, state television said, with the army warning people not to gather in public places.
The armed forces urged “the great people of Egypt … to refrain from congregating in main roads or public squares, and to obey a curfew,” according to a statement carried by the official MENA news agency.
“Legal measures will be taken against those in violation,” it said.
The army, unlike the repressive police, is widely respected in Egypt, and its appearance on the streets was generally welcomed.
Despite the curfew, shops and offices were looted overnight.
Police detained around 14 people on one Cairo bridge, saying they were looters and forcing them to kneel, hands behind their heads.
“We’ve been left without anything because of the people, but still we have to catch the thieves,” one officer told AFP.
Some 60 percent of Egypt’s police stations reportedly have reportedly been torched by angry demonstrators.
“Those people want change, but did they think that if they destroyed a police station and used violence the thieves would not come into their midst,” the policeman asked.
Clashes also erupted in the key port city of Ismailiya, northeast of the capital, where thousands of workers fought running battles with police.
In Alexandria, hundreds of people camped out by the main mosque in the centre of the Mediterranean city vowing to protest again, with several police stations still burning amid sporadic looting.
As in Cairo, tanks were deployed and the police were absent. Civilians directed traffic and conducted clean-up efforts.
In Tahrir Square, thousands chanted: “Those who love Egypt, don’t destroy it.”
Despite the ongoing protests, two Cairo mobile phone networks came back on line on Saturday, a day after all Egyptian operators were told to cut services.
But Internet access appeared still to be cut, with the inability to use microblogging sites such as Twitter or social networking sites such as Facebook affecting activists’ coordination of their activities.
US President Barack Obama called on the Egyptian authorities not to use violence against the political protests, driving home his message in a 30-minute phone call with Mubarak.
Obama urged Mubarak to take “concrete” steps towards political reforms, saying he must turn “a moment of volatility” into “a moment of promise.”
Washington has toughened its line on a key Middle Eastern ally, warning Egypt it would review billions of dollars in aid based on the behaviour of its security forces.
Egypt is one of the world’s largest recipients of US aid, receiving $1.3 billion annually in military assistance alone.
Demonstrators also torched the Cairo headquarters of Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party, which was still burning on Saturday as civilians cleared the burned-out carcasses of police vehicles from the road.
The demonstrations, inspired by events in Tunisia, are the largest in Egypt in the three decades of Mubarak’s rule, sending shock waves across the region.
At least 1,500 civilians and 1,000 police have been injured since Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the outside world was reacting nervously to events in Egypt.
Travel agencies postponed departures for popular tourist destination on Saturday, as capitals issued new warnings to their citizens to avoid visiting the country.
On Friday, stocks fell in New York where the perception of growing instability in the Middle East overshadowed a strong US GDP report.
On Saturday, the Saudi stock market, the Arab world’s largest, dropped 6.43 percent on the soaring tensions in Egypt.
And the Cairo exchange, which was due due to start a new week of trading on Sunday after losing at least 10 percent this week, said it will remain closed for the day along with the nation’s banks.