Thursday, January 27, 2011
A demonstrator and a police officer were killed in protests Wednesday in central Cairo, raising the death toll in two days of protests against Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak to six, while police fought with thousands of Egyptians who defied a government ban.
Meanwhile, the United States bluntly urged the Egyptian leader to make political reforms, marking a pivot in its stance toward a key Arab ally.
By nightfall, protesters in Suez threw Molotov cocktails at a government building, setting parts of it on fire and tried to burn down the ruling National Democratic Party office, security sources and witnesses said. The fire spread through parts of the Suez provincial administration office but was put out before the flames engulfed the entire building, they said.
In clashes with police who fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowds, 55 protesters and 15 police were wounded, medics said.
Elsewhere, dozens of protesters clashed with security forces outside the Foreign Ministry late Wednesday, pushing through a gate to the ministry
compound before being fired on with tear gas, an AFP reporter said. They managed to break through a side entrance to the ministry and snatch a fire extinguisher from the security guard’s booth, before a police van forced them back and fired the tear gas.
Earlier, protesters burned tires and hurled stones at police as groups gathered in different parts of Cairo. Protesters also clashed in other Egyptian cities. Activists had called on people to rally again after a “Day of Wrath” Tuesday of anti-government rallies across Egypt in which three protesters and a policeman were killed.
In Washington, White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs would not say whether Mubarak still has the Obama administration’s support saying only that “Egypt is a strong ally.” But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also urged Cairo to allow peaceful protests and not to block the social networking sites. “We believe strongly that the Egyptian government has an important opportunity at this moment in time to implement political, economic and social reforms to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people,” she said.
Security forces have arrested about 500 protesters over the two days, an Interior Ministry source said. But security officials put the number of those arrested nationwide at 860 protesters.
Witnesses said officers, some in civilian clothes, hauled away people and bundled them into unmarked vans. Some were beaten with batons.
Demonstrators complain of poverty, unemployment, corruption and repression and, inspired by the Tunisian revolt, demand that Mubarak step down.
Police fired shots into the air near the central Cairo court complex, witnesses said. In another area, they drove riot trucks into a crowd of about 3,000 people to force them to disperse. A protester in the center of Cairo told Reuters: “The main tactic now is we turn up suddenly and quickly without a warning or an announcement. That way we gain ground.”
Twitter and Facebook have been a key means of communications for the protesters. Egyptians complained Facebook and Twitter were subsequently blocked, but many accessed them via proxies. The government denied any role. Showing their determination to continue, a new Facebook group was created calling for a protest Friday. It secured 18,000 supporters within hours.A Facebook spokesman in London said it had not seen any major changes in traffic from Egypt.
Hundreds of protesters also gathered outside Cairo’s journalists’ union. Police beat some with batons when they tried to break a cordon and protesters on buildings threw stones at police below. The prime minister said Wednesday the government was committed to allowing freedom of expression by legitimate means and said police in Tuesday’s demonstrations had acted with restraint. – Reuters, AP