Protesters back on Cairo streets

Hundreds gather again in Tahrir Square calling for President Mubarak to step down, as death toll from protests rises

While army troops in some areas were welcomed by crowds, in others protesters attacked military vehicles [AFP]

Protesters have returned to the streets of Cairo, following violent overnight protests across the country staged in defiance of a curfew.
Demonstrators gathered in Tahrir Square in the Egyptian capital on Saturday morning, shouting “Go away, go away!”, the Reuters news agency said.
The latest protests reflected popular discontent with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s midnight address, where he announced that he was dismissing his government but remaining in power.
The several hundred protesters demonstrated in full view of the army, which had been deployed in the city to quell the popular unrest sweeping the Middle East’s most populous Muslim country since January 25.
They also repeatedly shouted that their intentions were peaceful.

Reuters reported that the police “fired shots” on the protesters. An independent confirmation of that report is awaited.

The road leading from Tahrir Square to the parliament and cabinet buildings has been blocked by the military, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Al Jazeera’s Jane Dutton, reporting from Cairo, said the normally bustling city looked more like a warzone early on Saturday morning.

Tanks have been patrolling the streets of the capital since early in the morning.

Violence overnight

Cities across Egypt witnessed unprecedented protests on Friday, with tens of thousands of protesters taking to the streets after noon prayers calling for an end to Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

The number of people killed in protests is reported to be in the dozens, with at least 23 deaths confirmed in Alexandria.

Al Jazeera’s Rawya Rageh, reporting from the port city, said that the bodies of 23 protesters had been received at the local morgue.

More than 1,000 were also wounded in Friday’s violent protests, which occurred in Cairo and Suez, in addition to Alexandria.

Dutton said the number of the people on the streets “increased after president Hosni Mubarak’s speech shortly after midnight”.

Regarding the situation in Cairo on Saturday morning, she said “there is broken glass everywhere … a lot of the burnt out shells of the police cars have been removed but you are aware that there were hours and hours of skirmishes on the streets of the capital city [last night]”.

The ruling National Democratic Party’s headquarters in the capital is still ablaze, more than 12 hours after it was set alight by protesters.

The Egyptian army says that it has been able to secure the neighbouring museum of antiquities from the threat of fire and looting, averting the possible loss of thousands of priceless artefacts.

Armoured personnel carriers remain stationed around the British and US embassies, as well as at the state television station.

Some mobile phone networks resumed service in the capital on Saturday, after being shut down by authorities on Friday. Internet services remain cut, and landline usage limited.

Authorities had blocked internet, mobile phone and SMS services in order to disrupt planned demonstrations.

Al Jazeera’s Jamal ElShayyal in Suez reported that no fresh protests had occured on Saturday morning in the port city.

Respect for army

Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Cairo, said protesters had been “galvanised” by Mubarak’s announcement that he was staying in power.

Military armoured vehicles rolled onto the streets of the capital on Friday night in a bid to quell the protests. People cheered as the army arrived, and hundreds of people thronged around a military vehicle near Cairo’s Tahrir square.

“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,” Mohyeldin said.

Bloodiest protests

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

Buildings were set alight, and violent clashes continued into the night after a day of unprecedented anger.

Shots were heard near parliament earlier in the day as the headquarters of the ruling party were in flames.

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

Protesters often quickly dispersed and regrouped.

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

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 unrest in Egypt 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 Jordan, Yemen and elsewhere.

The government in Egypt had vowed to crack down on demonstrations and arrest those participating in them.


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