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Friday, January 28,2011

Egyptian protests intensify; demonstrators battle with police

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service

CAIRO and TUNIS, Tunisia — Police and protesters clashed across Egypt on Friday, and opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei was doused by a water cannon before escaping the swinging batons of riot police and taking cover in a Cairo mosque.

Late in the day, army tanks and trucks flowed into Cairo to augment the police. At least one building was on fire, and there were reports that President Hosni Mubarak would address the nation.

A 6 p.m.-to-dawn curfew was imposed, but it was ignored by many protesters, who remained in the streets well after dark. Sounds of gunfire could also be heard in downtown Cairo after dark.

The chaos was a visceral sign that the government of Mubarak would confront even peaceful marches with tough, rapid force, including firing tear gas and concussion grenades. ElBaradei, who had been trying to lead a demonstration when he was forced inside, called the tactics "barbaric" and condemned the government for using "inhumane weapons."

As he sat shaken and drenched, his eyes stinging from tear gas, Elbaradei, 68, said protesters had called for nonviolent change, "but I think that opportunity is over. It's now the people versus the thugs."

He added it was "time for the international community to express its view on the so-called stability of the Egyptian government. If they don't do that now, they will lose the residue of credibility they have in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world."

Thousands of protesters swarmed streets and boulevards of the capital, battling police on bridges as tear gas canisters popped overhead and hissed, splashing into the Nile River. Rocks and stones peppered the air as protesters covered their eyes with scarves and breathed in the odor from onions to block the scent of the tear gas. By late afternoon, streams of protesters from all directions of the capital flowed toward Tahrir Square, where police waited.

"The police are trying to kill this protest as quickly as they can because they know they can't win in a long war with the people," said a protester, Ahmed Abdel Zaher. "We are rising now."

As tear-gas canisters bounced over the pavement, Abdel Zaher, 25, twitched and hunkered down.

"I was born under Mubarak, and it seems I might die while he's still in power," he said. "But, God willing, this protest will be endless."

Throughout the day, the protesters smashed armored police vehicles and battled authorities for hours. Television footage broadcast across the Arab world showed protesters in Cairo and the city of Sinai battling security forces armed with truncheons and tear gas.

The protesters demand an end to Mubarak's rule, which they describe as corrupt, economically unjust and repressive. "The people want the fall of the regime," they chanted in one piece of footage as they swarmed a major thoroughfare in what appeared to be Sinai.

Earlier footage posted to the Internet, said to have been filmed in Cairo, showed huge crowds whistling, cheering and chanting, "Allah Akbar," or "God is great."

"Leave, leave, Mubarak; Mubarak, the plane awaits you," they chanted, in reference to the Jan. 14 flight of former Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine ben Ali, whose ouster after weeks of protests has inspired other demonstrations across the Arab world.

Mubarak's regime has responded to the a string of protests this week with mostly non-lethal but brutal force, and by clamping down on the Internet..

The protesters have used social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter to organize rallies and YouTube to publicize them. Contacts in Egypt described a total shutdown of the Internet on Friday as well as the jamming of satellite news channels such as al-Jazeera, which have broadcast footage of the protests.

Activists also said land phone lines in some neighborhoods of Cairo had stopped working.

"Internet is blocked. Phone lines have been cut," one activist in Cairo said on his Facebook page. "All major squares are armed with security. Security (is) preventing people from protesting, using heavy force. We're at war. ... We're at war."

By all accounts, it has been a day unlike any Egypt has seen in the last few decades. "The skyline in Alexandria is filled of smoke, scenes of injured being rushed to hospital," al-Jazeera reported on its Twitter page.


(c) 2011, Los Angeles Times.

Visit the Los Angeles Times on the Internet at http://www.latimes.com/

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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