Anti-govt protests rock Egypt

On the boil: Egyptian demonstrators demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and calling for reforms face riot police in Cairo on Wednesday. AFP

Thousands of Egyptians defied a ban on protests by returning to Egypt’s streets on Wednesday and calling for President Hosni Mubarak to leave office, and some scuffled with police.

Activists had called on Egyptians to take to the streets again to end Mubarak’s 30-year rule after Tuesday’s “Day of Wrath” involving anti-government protests across Egypt in which three protesters and one policeman were killed.

The three protesters died in the eastern city of Suez, and the policeman was killed in Cairo.

Police use riot trucks on Wednesday to break up a crowd of as many as 3,000 people who had gathered outside a Cairo court complex, one of the places where demonstrations had started on Tuesday.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the morgue in Suez demanding the release of one of the three bodies, witnesses said. Protesters said he was killed by several gunshots and demanded an autopsy.

“The government has killed my son,” the Suez protesters outside the morgue chanted. “Oh Habib, tell your master, your hands are soiled with our blood,” they said, referring to Interior Minister Habib al-Adli.

Hundreds of protesters also gathered outside Cairo’s journalists’ syndicate, where the authorities allow regular protests. Police beat some with batons when they tried to break a cordon. Protesters on buildings threw stones at police below.

The state news agency said 90 people were arrested while trying to gather in Tahrir square in central Cairo, the focus of the biggest demonstrations. A judicial source said 64 people were detained in Alexandria.

The interior ministry had earlier banned all protest meetings. “No provocative movements or protest gatherings or organisation of marches or demonstrations will be allowed, and immediate legal procedures will be taken and participants will be handed over to investigating authorities,” the state news agency MENA cited the ministry as saying.

On Tuesday, some 20,000 demonstrators, complaining of poverty, unemployment, corruption and repression and inspired by this month’s downfall of the president of Tunisia, had turned out in cities across Egypt to demand that Mubarak step down. “To any free and honest citizen with a conscience who fears for his country, to anyone who saw yesterday’s (Tuesday) violence against protesters, we ask you to pronounce a general strike across Egypt today and tomorrow,” one activist wrote on a Facebook that has been used as a tool to marshal protests.

One opposition group, the ‘Sixth of April Youth’, called on its Facebook page for more protests on Wednesday “and after Thursday, until Mubarak goes”.

Facebook has been a key means of communication for protesters, but Egyptians said the site was blocked on Wednesday. Twitter confirmed its site was blocked on Tuesday, although users could still access it via proxy sites.

Demands posted on Facebook included the resignation of Mubarak and Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, the dissolution of parliament and formation of a national unity government.
The Internet has been the main platform for some of the most vociferous criticism of Mubarak.

The complaints echo those of fellow Arabs in Tunisia: soaring food prices, lack of jobs and authoritarian rule that usually crushes protests swiftly and with a heavy hand. 

Egypt’s population of 80 million is growing by 2 per cent a year. About 60 per cent of the population are under 30 years old. About 40 per cent live on less than $2 a day, and a third are illiterate.

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