Egypt burns as protests spread

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CAIRO/LONDON/WASHINGTON – Embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called out the army and declared a nationwide curfew on Friday, as tens of thousands of protesters rampaged through the streets of major cities demanding his ouster. A curfew in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez kicked in at 6pm and was supposed to run until 7am, state television reported but later it said the curfew had been extended to cover all 28 governorates in the country.
Mubarak “has asked the armed forces, in cooperation with the police, to implement the decision, and maintain security and secure public establishments and private property”, it said. In the capital Cairo, protesters poured out of mosques after Friday prayers and ran rampant through the streets, throwing stones and torching two police stations as police chased them with batons, firing tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets.
Demonstrations spread around Cairo, where police appeared overwhelmed as protesters broke through several police barriers. They were seen being dragged away and pushed into police vans, as others defied the heavy police presence and made their way to the central Tahrir Square. In the canal city of Suez, protesters overran a police station, seized weapons and set fire to security force vehicles in fierce clashes in which a demonstrator was killed, witnesses said.
In Alexandria, protesters threw stones at police after prayers with cries of “God is greatest” followed by “We don’t want him,” referring to Mubarak. The crowd attacked police vans, torching one, after a civilian had most of his hand blown away, allegedly by police. Protesters also set fire to the governorate building in the city centre.
In the Delta city of Mansura, hundreds chanted “Down with Mubarak” as they emerged from prayers, heavily outnumbered by security forces. Some imams had encouraged worshippers to “go out and seek change,” an AFP correspondent reported. In Damietta, tens of thousands protested and set fire to the NDP headquarters, witnesses said.
The nationwide demonstrations, inspired by the “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia, have swelled into the largest uprising in three decades, sending shockwaves across the region. Eight people have been killed, hundreds injured and some 1,000 arrested. ElBaradei arrested: Meanwhile, Egyptian authorities held Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel peace laureate leading protests.
ElBaradei has said he would be prepared to lead a transitional authority if he were asked.Flanked by supporters and riot police, ElBaradei, a former head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, told reporters that the regime was “on its last legs” and urged Mubarak to heed the voice of his people.
US, UK: US President Barack Obama on Friday held a 40-minute meeting on the fast-moving violence in Egypt with top members of his national security team, and ordered further briefings later in the day. Obama met in the Oval Office with officials including Vice President Joe Biden, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, top counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan and other senior intelligence and diplomatic officials, an official said.
The meeting took place shortly before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered the most robust criticism of Egypt’s government by Washington so far, calling on the government in Cairo to restrain security forces. “Fundamental rights must be respected, violence avoided and open communications allowed,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said. British Foreign Secretary William Hague also said protesters taking to the streets in Egypt had “legitimate grievances” and urged all sides to refrain from violence.
WikiLeaks: Separately, diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and published by a Norwegian paper on Friday said the US had pumped tens of millions of dollars into pro-democracy organisations in Egypt to the dismay of beleaguered President Mubarak.
Jordanians protest: Meanwhile, thousands of Jordanians held peaceful demonstrations in Amman and other cities on Friday to press for reform and the government’s resignation. Police said around 2,000 people staged protests in other cities, answering a call by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, which demands political and economic reforms in the kingdom.
Irbid, Karak, Maan and Diban were also the scenes of peaceful protests at which no clashes were reported.