CAIRO — Fighter jets swooped low over Cairo Sunday in what appeared to be an attempt by the military to show its control of a city beset by looting, armed robbery and anti-government protests.

Minutes before the start of a 4 p.m. curfew, at least two jets appeared and made multiple passes over downtown, including a central square where thousands of protesters were calling for the departure of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

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Police could be seen returning to some streets nearly two days after virtually disappearing, creating a security vacuum only partially filled by the presence of army troops backed by tanks at key sites around this city of 18 million people.

After days of escalating chaos, gangs of armed men attacked at least four jails across Egypt before dawn, helping to free hundreds of Muslim militants and thousands of other inmates. Gangs of young men with guns and large sticks smashed cars and robbed people in Cairo.

Banks were closed on orders from Egypt's Central Bank, and the stock market was shut on what is normally the first day of the trading week. Markets across the Middle East dropped on fears about the instability's damage to Egypt's economy, and the region's.

An unprecedented Internet cutoff remained in place after the country's four primary Internet providers stopped moving data in and out of the country in an apparent move by authorities to disrupt the organization of demonstrations blaming Mubarak's regime for poverty, unemployment, widespread corruption and police brutality.

The official death toll from five days of growing crisis stood at 74, with thousands injured.

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US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday that Washington expects that the protests in Egypt will lead to free and fair elections as part of an "orderly" transition to "real democracy."

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyhau told his cabinet that he was "anxiously following" the crisis, saying in his first public comments on the situation that Israel's three-decade-old peace agreement with Egypt must be preserved.

After a night of violence in many cities across Egypt, the army sent hundreds more troops and armored vehicles onto the streets starting Sunday morning. Truckloads of hundreds of police poured back into Cairo neighborhoods Sunday afternoon and took up positions on the streets.

In some spots, they were jeered by residents who chanted anti-police slogans and demanded that they only be allowed to deploy jointly with the military.

State television showed Egyptian Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi in green fatigues on a central Cairo street, speaking with soldiers and civilian onlookers.

Then, as the curfew loomed, the jets roared over the Nile and toward Tahrir Square in the heart of Cairo, where thousands of protesters have gathered each day to demand the end of the administration.

The jets made several passes over the square, dropping lower every time and setting off alarms in parked cars.

Some protesters clapped and waved to them while others jeered.

Lines of army tanks jammed a road leading into Tahrir, and a military helicopter hovered overhead. Soldiers working with civilian protester volunteers checked IDs and bags of people arriving to join the marches.

State TV Sunday showed images of Mubarak during what it said was a visit to the country's military command center. The president looked somber and fatigued in his first public appearance since he addressed the nation late Friday to promise reform and annouce the dismissal of his Cabinet.

The brief footage appeared designed to project an image of normalcy.

Egyptian security officials said that overnight armed men fired at guards in gun battles that lasted hours at the four prisons including one northwest of Cairo that held hundreds of militants. The prisoners escaped after starting fires and clashing with guards.

Those who fled included 34 members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest and best organized opposition group. The Muslim Brotherhood's lawyer, Abdel-Monaem Abdel-Maqsoud, told The Associated Press the 34 were among scores rounded up by authorities ahead of the large anti-government demonstrations on Friday. The escapees included at least seven senior members of the group.

The security officials said several inmates were killed and wounded, but gave no specific figures. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share the information with the media.

In the southern city of Assiut, officials said riot police stormed the city's main prison to quell a prison riot, using tear gas and batons against inmates. An Associated Press reporter saw army tanks were deployed outside the prison, on bridges straddling the Nile and at the police headquarters.

Thousands of Alexandrians met to pray in downtown Alexandria, a Mediterranean port city that is a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood. After prayers, the crowd marched towards the city's old mosque to pray for the souls of those who died in the protests.

Egyptian mobile networks were back up after days of cutoffs but with text-messaging widely disrupted. Blackberry Messenger and mobile Internet services were operating sporadically.

The pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera said that Egyptian authorities ordered the closure of its Cairo news hub overseeing coverage of the country's massive street protests, denouncing the move as an attempt to "stifle and repress" open reporting.

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