Egyptian protests intensify; demonstrators battle with police

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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.

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