Egyptian Protests 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
CAIRO— Egyptian anti-government activists clashed with police for a
second day Wednesday in defiance of an official ban on any protests.
Beefed up police forces on the streets quickly moved in and used tear
gas and beatings to disperse any demonstrations.
Security officials said a total of 860 protesters have been rounded up
nationwide since Tuesday, when tens of thousands turned out for the
largest protests in Egypt in years — inspired by the uprising in
Tunisia. They demanded President Hosni Mubarak's ouster and a solution
to grinding poverty, rising prices and high unemployment.
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After nightfall Wednesday, more than 2,000 demonstrators were marching on a major downtown boulevard along the Nile when dozens of riot police with helmets and shields charged the crowd. It was a scene repeated throughout the day wherever demonstrators tried to gather.
They were the latest in outbursts of political discontent in Egypt that
have been growing more frequent and more intense over the past year.
Protests have erupted sporadically over police brutality, poverty and
food prices, government corruption and mismanagement, and more recently
sectarian strife between Christians and Muslims. Parliamentary elections
in November were widely decried as fraudulent.
Many in Egypt see these events as signs of the authoritarian president's
vulnerability in an election year. There is speculation that
82-year-old Mubarak, who has been in power for nearly 30 years and
recently experienced serious health problems, may be setting his son
Gamal up for hereditary succession. But there is considerable public
opposition and, according to leaked US diplomatic memos, it does not
meet with the approval of the powerful military. And the regime's tight
hold on power has made it virtually impossible for any serious
alternative to Mubarak to emerge.
The crackdown by authorities brought harsh words from European leaders,
who expressed concern and said the events underline the need for
democratization and respect for human and civil rights. However, US
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton did not criticize Egypt's
government — a key US ally in the Middle East — but only said the
country was stable and Egyptians have the right to protest while urging
all parties to avoid violence.
Activists used social networking sites to call for fresh demonstrations
Wednesday. But Facebook, a key tool used to organize protests, appeared
to be at least partially blocked in the afternoon. On Tuesday, Twitter
and cell phones appeared to be sporadically blocked as well.
The Interior Ministry warned Wednesday that police would not tolerate
any gatherings, and thousands were out on the streets poised to crack
down quickly on any new signs of unrest after clashes on Tuesday that
killed three demonstrators and one police officer.
Early Wednesday, thousands of policemen in riot gear and backed by
armored vehicles took up posts in Cairo on bridges across the Nile, at
major intersections and squares as well as outside key installations
such as the state TV building and the headquarters of Mubarak's ruling
National Democratic Party.
Police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of several hundred activists
on a main commercial thoroughfare in central Cairo, chasing them through
side streets as both sides pelted each other with rocks with hundreds
of onlookers watching anxiously.
Earlier, dozens gathered outside the Journalists' Union in downtown
Cairo and renewed the chants heard against Mubarak throughout Tuesday's
much larger protests. "Mubarak is leaving, leaving. O Egyptian people,
be brave and join us," they chanted. As police charged the crowd,
beating them with sticks, they chanted "peaceful, peaceful."
In the city of Suez east of Cairo, an angry crowd of about 1,000 people
gathered outside the city's morgue demanding to take possession and bury
the body of one of three protesters who died in clashes on Tuesday.
In the southern city of Assiut, eyewitnesses said riot police set upon
some 100 activists staging an anti-government protest Wednesday, beating
them up with batons and arresting nearly half of them.
"Down, down Hosni Mubarak," chanted the crowd. "Oh, people, join us or you will be next."
Many protesters say they have been inspired by the uprising in Tunisia —
even invoking some of the identical slogans heard in the other north
European reaction to the crackdown was critical. German Foreign Minister
Guido Westerwelle said he was "very concerned" and called on all
concerned to show restraint.
"The situation in Egypt must not escalate," he said. "The current
situation in Egypt ... underlines the necessity of democratization, of
respect for human and civil rights," Westerwelle told reporters in
Berlin, pointing to the need for freedom of opinion, assembly and the
press to be respected.
"We are seeing in the last few weeks that a country's stability is not
endangered by granting civil rights — it is through the refusal of civil
and human rights that societies become unstable," he said in a
reference to Tunisia.