Egyptians defy curfew, ElBaradei to join protests

Thousands defied curfew in Egypt as troops in their American-built tanks watch and the fragmented opposition gave a sign of coming together.

Egyptians defy curfew, ElBaradei to join protests

Thousands defied curfew in Egypt as troops in their American-built tanks watch and the fragmented opposition gave a sign of coming together.

Retired international diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei said he had been given a mandate to reach out to the army and build a new government:

"Mubarak has to leave today," he told CNN.

Egyptian air force fighter planes buzzed low over Cairo on Sunday, helicopters hovered above and extra troop trucks appeared in a central square where protesters were demanding an end to President Hosni Mubarak's rule.

Mubarak held talks with top military commanders earlier in the day, state media reported.

A Reuters witness saw at least three jets fly over Tahrir Square. The warplanes flew over the city several times. At least a dozen troop trucks and extra tanks drove towards the square as more protesters gathered in defiance of the curfew.

Tanks have been posted in the square since Friday when the army was sent to the streets to take control after days of unrest and anti-government demonstrations.

"The planes are out there to scare the people. It's time for the curfew and no one is going home," a 45-year-old engineer who was protesting in the main Tahrir square said. "It's clear to me that the army is here to protect Mubarak."

"ElBaradei to join protest"

ElBaradei plans join protesters later on Sunday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the hub of the protest calling for President Hosni Mubarak to quit, an opposition figure said.

"Dr Mohamed ElBaradei will be joining protesters in Tahrir," Mustafa el-Naggar told Reuters, adding he would come to the square later on Sunday, his first visit to the hub of the protest since returning to Egypt on Thursday.

Naggar is the coordinator for the National Coalition for Change, a coalition of opposition movements seeking political reform and headed by ElBaradei. plans join protesters later on Sunday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the hub of the protest calling for President Hosni Mubarak to quit, an opposition figure said.

"Dr Mohamed ElBaradei will be joining protesters in Tahrir," Mustafa el-Naggar told Reuters, adding he would come to the square later on Sunday, his first visit to the hub of the protest since returning to Egypt on Thursday.

Naggar is the coordinator for the National Coalition for Change, a coalition of opposition movements seeking political reform and headed by ElBaradei.plans join protesters later on Sunday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the hub of the protest calling for President Hosni Mubarak to quit, an opposition figure said.

"Dr Mohamed ElBaradei will be joining protesters in Tahrir," Mustafa el-Naggar told Reuters, adding he would come to the square later on Sunday, his first visit to the hub of the protest since returning to Egypt on Thursday.

Naggar is the coordinator for the National Coalition for Change, a coalition of opposition movements seeking political reform and headed by ElBaradei.

"Meeting with top commanders"

Earlier in the day, Mubarak met newly appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman, Defence Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Chief of Staff Sami al-Anan and other commanders at a military headquarters.

When the fighter planes flew overhead, some shouted "Long live the army". Others in Tahrir shouted: "We will not go, he will go, Hosni is going mad."

The defence minister was shown on state television reviewing army units based outside the state broadcasting building.

"Egypt depends on you now," Tantawi said to one soldier, patting him on the shoulders.

"American agents"

An earthquake of unrest is shaking Mubarak's authoritarian grip on Egypt and the high command's support is vital as other pillars of his ruling apparatus crumble, political analysts said as protests entered their sixth day.

Amidst a heavy military presence, up to 4,000 people gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square, which has become a rallying point to express anger at poverty, repression and corruption in the Arab world's most populous nation.

"Hosni Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, both of you are agents of the Americans," shouted protesters, referring to the appointment of intelligence chief Suleiman as vice president, the first time Mubarak has appointed a deputy in 30 years of office.

Clearly those in Tahrir Square did not wish to see Mubarak's ruling structure replaced by a military line-up featuring his closest cronies. "Mubarak, Mubarak, the plane awaits," said demonstrators, intent on getting rid of the old guard.

The turmoil, in which more than 100 people have died, has sent shock waves through the Middle East where other autocratic rulers may face similar challenges, and unsettled financial markets around the globe as well as Egypt's allies in the West.

The final straw seems to have been parliamentary elections in November last year, which observers said authorities rigged to exclude the opposition and secure Mubarak's ruling party a rubber-stamp parliament.

The military response to the crisis has been ambivalent. Troops now guard key buildings after police lost control of the streets, but have neglected to enforce a curfew, often fraternising with protesters rather than confronting them.

It remains to be seen if the armed forces will keep Mubarak in power, or decide he is a liability to Egypt's national interests, and their own. It was also unclear if Mubarak had decided to talk with the generals or if he was summoned by them.

It was Tunisian generals who persuaded former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee last month after weeks of protests.

"Tanks on streets"

In surreal scenes, soldiers from Mubarak's army stood by tanks covered in anti-Mubarak graffiti: "Down with Mubarak. Down with the despot. Down with the traitor. Pharaoh out of Egypt."

Asked how they could let protesters scrawl anti-Mubarak slogans on their vehicles, one soldier said: "These are written by the people, it's the views of the people."

Egypt's sprawling armed forces -- the world's 10th biggest and more than 468,000-strong -- have been at the heart of power since army officers staged the 1952 overthrow of the king. It benefits from about $1.3 billion a year in U.S. military aid.

"ElBaradei negotiator"

Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Laureate for his work with the U.N. nuclear agency who returned to Egypt from Europe to join the protests, has been chosen to be the political opposition's representative to talk with government.

"Political groups support ElBaradei to negotiate with the regime," Essam el-Eryan of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist opposition group, told Al Jazeera television.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist opposition group, has stayed in the background, although several of its senior officials have been rounded up.

Thirty-four members of the Brotherhood, including seven of its leaders, walked out of prison on Sunday after relatives of prisoners overcame the guards, a Brotherhood official said. The Brotherhood has called on Egyptians to keep up their protests.

Prisoners have escaped from several major prisons across Egypt after police morale and discipline started to break down. In many parts of Egypt police have abandoned their stations.

State television largely ignored protests until Friday, the biggest day when a curfew was announced. Since then it has given more coverage but has focused on disorder and shown pictures of small protests, not the mass gatherings.

The government has interfered with Internet access and mobile phone signals to try and disrupt demonstrators' plans.

"This is the Arab world's Berlin moment," said Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics, comparing the events to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. "The authoritarian wall has fallen, and that's regardless of whether Mubarak survives."

"Orderly transition"

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States wanted to see "orderly transition" through free and fair elections in its key ally and the Arab world's most populous nation.

We want to see an orderly transition so that no one fills a void," Clinton told Fox News Sunday. "We also don't want to see some takeover that would lead not to democracy but to oppression and the end of the aspirations of the Egyptian people."

She said Washington was not considering a cutoff of money to Cairo for now.



Agencies

Last Mod: 31 Ocak 2011, 12:30
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