Egypt on high alert as death toll reaches 100

Protests continue to spread across capital; looting, riots rampant in main cities; report says that Mubarak fled to Sharm e-Sheikh home.

By MELANIE LIDMAN, JPOST CORRESPONDENT IN CAIRO
January 30, 2011 09:37
Protestors pray in front of a tank in Cairo.

Egypt tanks_311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

After five days of protests, Egyptian security forces were on high alert Sunday after Cairo was engulfed in chaos overnight Saturday. There was rampant looting, and lawlessness spread fast. Residents of affluent neighborhoods were boarding up their homes against gangs of thugs roaming the streets with knives and sticks, and gunfire was heard in some neighborhoods.

The death toll for five days of protests rose sharply since Friday to around 100, according Israel Radio. About 2,000 people have also reportedly been injured.

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Just after midnight on Saturday, witnesses said police shot dead 17 people who tried to attack two police stations in the Beni Suef governorate, south of Cairo, Reuters reported.

According to the report, 12 of the victims attempted to attack a police station in Biba, while the five others tried to attack another station in Nasser city. Dozens were reported injured in the confrontations.

British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported Saturday that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has fled Cairo and was hiding in his Sharm e-Sheikh winter home,

According to the report, workers in the resort said they saw Mubarak's entourage arrive on Wednesday, however no officials could confirm the report.

Mubarak named a vice president on Saturday, for the first time since coming to power nearly 30 years ago – a clear step toward setting up a successor in the midst of the biggest anti-government protests of his regime.

Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman’s appointment as the country’s first vice president since Mubarak held the post from 1975-1981 may be intended to enable him to take control of a transitional government after Mubarak’s resignation, CNN reported on Saturday evening, citing a senior source in the ruling party.

A source within the ruling National Democratic Party was quoted by CNN as saying that the appointment of Suleiman “could well be the beginning of a transition allowing the president to step down.”

According to the report, many in Cairo consider Mubarak’s resignation a foregone conclusion; however, no exact information was given as to when the resignation might occur.

Violence raged through Egypt on Saturday and tanks and armored personnel carriers fanned out across Cairo, guarding key government buildings. Egyptian television reported the army was deploying reinforcements to neighborhoods to try to control the lawlessness.

The military was protecting major tourist and archeological sites such as the Egyptian Museum, home to some of the country’s most treasured antiquities, as well as the cabinet building. The military closed the Great Pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo – Egypt’s premiere tourist site.

Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt

Mubarak's party headquarters burned down

On Friday, protesters burned down the headquarters of Mubarak’s ruling party along the Nile and set fire to other buildings, roaming the streets of downtown Cairo in defiance of a night curfew enforced by the first army deployment.

Thousands of people defied the curfew for the second night on Saturday, standing their ground in the main Tahrir Square in a resounding rejection of Mubarak’s attempt to hang onto power with promises of reform and a new government.

“What we want is for Mubarak to leave, not just his government,” Muhammad Mahmoud, a demonstrator in Tahrir Square, said. “We will not stop protesting until he goes.”

On Saturday, there was no police presence on the streets.

Instead, military tanks and soldiers were stationed at almost every intersection, as the burned skeletons of police vehicles littered the roads from Friday’s violence.

People on their way to Tahrir Square on Saturday scrambled all over the destroyed vehicles, snapping pictures with their cellphones. Residents cheered the tanks whenever they saw them, and some went up to the soldiers and hugged and kissed them, thanking them for being there.

On one tank was scrawled black graffiti: “Down with Mubarak.”

“We hate the police because they have no humanity,” said Tarek Muhammad, a second-year communications student at Cairo University. “The army knows our rights, and knows what we want, and I think our army can change with us.”

Several police stations torched

In contrast, protesters have attacked police, who are hated for their brutality. On Friday, 17 police stations throughout the capital were torched, with protesters stealing firearms and ammunition and setting some jailed suspects free. They also burned dozens of police trucks in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez.

On Saturday, protesters besieged a police station in the Giza neighborhood of Cairo, looting and pulling down Egyptian flags before burning the building to the ground.

One army captain joined the demonstrators in Tahrir, who hoisted him on their shoulders while chanting slogans against Mubarak. The officer ripped a picture of the president.

“We don’t want him! We will go after him!” demonstrators shouted. They decried looting and sabotage, saying: “Those who love Egypt should not sabotage Egypt!”

When thousands of people tried to storm the Interior Ministry, police opened fire. At least three protesters were killed; their bodies were carried through the crowd.

The demonstrators are unified in one overarching demand: Mubarak and his family must go. The movement is a culmination of years of simmering frustration over a government they see as corrupt, heavy-handed and neglectful of grinding poverty.

Mubarak sacked his cabinet on Saturday and promised reforms to try to quell the protests, but it did not satisfy the demonstrators, who were out in force again to demand a complete change of regime.


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