Saturday, January 29, 2011

Egypt wakes to devastation as Mubarak refuses to quit

By Edmund Blair – Jan. 29, 2011

CAIRO (Reuters) – President Hosni Mubarak clung to power in Egypt on
Saturday after days of popular protests against his 30-year-old rule in
which at least 24 people were killed and more than 1,000 wounded.

Mubarak refused to bow to protesters' demands that he quit and ordered
troops and tanks into cities overnight in an attempt to quell
demonstrations that left a trail wreckage across Cairo.

The ruling party's headquarters were still burning on Saturday morning and
demonstrators were still out in the streets in the early hours in defiance
of a curfew. Daybreak revealed ransacked shops and burned-out buildings.

Mubarak promised to appoint a new cabinet on Saturday and called for
dialogue to avert chaos.

Medical sources said at least 24 people had been killed and more than
1,000 wounded in Friday's clashes in Cairo, Suez and Alexandria.

"It is not by setting fire and by attacking private and public property
that we achieve the aspirations of Egypt and its sons, but they will be
achieved through dialogue, awareness and effort," the president said in a
midnight TV address, his first public appearance since the protests began
four days ago.

The unprecedented unrest has sent shock waves through the Middle East,
where other autocratic rulers may face similar challenges, and unsettled
global financial markets on Friday.

President Barack Obama said he spoke to Mubarak and urged "concrete steps
that advance the rights of the Egyptian people."

The protests bore many hallmarks of the unrest that toppled the leader of
Tunisia two weeks ago, although the arrival of army troops to back up the
police showed that Mubarak still has support of the military, the
country's most powerful force.

Protesters mocked his decision to sack his cabinet as an empty gesture.

"It was never about the government, by God. It is you (Mubarak) who has to
go! What you have done to the people is enough!" said one.

"The people want the president to fall," dozens of youths chanted to a
Reuters TV camera in the early morning in Tahrir square in central Cairo.

Some youths held up empty shotgun cartridges, teargas canisters and unused
live rounds.

Tanks stood on roads leading into the square. One army armored personnel
carrier was gutted by fire. The square was strewn with rubble, burned
tires and charred wood that had been used as barricades overnight.

The army's arrival had initially been welcomed by crowds, frustrated by
heavy handed police. But the damage to army vehicles showed that this
swiftly wore off and protesters overnight accused the army of taking the
same police line.

"What happened was a betrayal of the people...We were celebrating the
army's presence when they got to Tahrir, we let them through to take over
from the dirty riot police and then we got fired at again," Marzouq, a
protester, in his 20s, said.

Cars began returning to the streets and there were other signs of normal
life resuming but the wreckage was widespread.

In central Cairo, a petrol station was smashed and the burned-out shells
of three cars lay on the street nearby. Elsewhere, police trucks and
pick-ups still smoldered in the acrid air, filled with the smell of smoke
and teargas.

The ruling party headquarters in Cairo, set ablaze on Friday, was still

In Cairo's Mohandiseen district, jewelry shops were ransacked and emptied.
A Reuters team saw a gang of looters storm into a bank and carry out the
safe overnight.

More than half of the dead in Friday's clashes were reported in Suez, the
eastern city which was a focus of the most violent protests over the past
four days.


Some Egyptians expressed fear that more unrest would leave their country
in ruins, and hoped Mubarak would go quickly.

"We don't want this regime to leave this country in a state of
destruction. We want it to go away. We need to give them a safe haven to
leave this nation. Leave us, enough," Salah Abdel Maqsoud, a senior
official in the Journalists Union close to the opposition Muslim
Brotherhood, told Al Jazeera television.

Mubarak, 82, has been a close ally of Washington and beneficiary of U.S.
aid for decades, justifying his autocratic rule in part by citing a danger
of Islamist militancy.

The Muslim Brotherhood opposition, however, appears to have played a
backseat role in the unrest.

His government has largely shut Egypt off from the Internet, which
protesters used to organize. The mobile phone network in Cairo was still
out of action. Obama called for an end to interference with communications

"I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to
refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters," Obama said.

Anthony Skinner, Associate Director of political risk consultancy
Maplecroft, said Mubarak's conduct was reminiscent of that of Tunisia's
ousted leader Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali, who also fired his cabinet hours
before he was forced to flee.

"Mubarak is showing he is still there for now and he is trying to deflect
some of the force of the process away from himself by sacking the cabinet.
We will have to see how people react but I don't think it will be enough
at all."

Markets were hit by the uncertainty. U.S. stocks suffered their biggest
one-day loss in nearly six months, crude oil prices surged and the dollar
and U.S. Treasury debt gained as investors looked to safe havens.

(Additional reporting by Dina Zayed, Marwa Awad, Shaimaa Fayed, Sherine El
Madany, Yasmine Saleh, Alison Williams and Samia Nakhoul in Cairo, and
Alexander Dziadosz in Suez; Writing by Peter Graff)

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