ElBaradei in Egypt to join Friday protests

ElBaradei returned to Cairo on Thursday after saying it was time for President Hosni Mubarak to quit.

ElBaradei in Egypt to join Friday protests

Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog turned Egyptian reform campaigner, returned to Cairo on Thursday after saying it was time for President Hosni Mubarak to quit.

ElBaradei, 68, arrived from Vienna, where he lives, to join a growing wave of protests against Mubarak inspired by Tunisia's overthrow of their authoritarian president.

Demonstrators appeared determined to allow no let-up in mass rallies against Mubarak's three-decade rule, with another wave of protests expected after Friday prayers.

In a sign of open defiance against authoritarian rulers spreading in the region, police also clashed with protesters in the Arabian Peninsula state of Yemen and Gabon in West Africa.

In the Egyptian city of Suez, police fired rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas at hundreds of demonstrators calling for an end to Mubarak's rule. Protesters chucked rocks and petrol bombs at police lines.

Hundreds of demonstrators remained on the streets of Suez late into Thursday night. Smoke from fires lit on the roads filled the air while tear gas hung in the air in some areas of the city, forcing people to cover their mouths with tissues.

As in many other countries in the region, protesters in Egypt complain about surging prices, unemployment and the authorities' reliance on heavy-handed security to keep dissenting voices quiet.

In Ismailia, hundreds of protesters clashed with police who dispersed the crowds with tear gas.

In Egypt's Sinai peninsula, Bedouin tribesmen fired rocket propelled grenades at a police station on Thursday evening, a security source and witnesses said. One hit the building.

Police were surrounding the area, so it was not immediately clear whether the police station was damaged.

Support spread for a planned wave of protests on Friday, initiated on the Facebook social networking website.

"I will participate," ElBaradei, 68, who has campaigned for reform in Egypt, said on flying in from his home in Vienna, where he used to lead the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog.

"I wish we did not have to go out on the streets to press the regime to act," said the Egyptian.

"Total dictatorship"

On Thursday, Egyptians torched a police post in Suez in response to the killing of three demonstrators earlier in the week, a Reuters witness said.

"Our government is a dictatorship. A total dictatorship," said Mohamed Fahim, a 29-year-old glass factory worker, as he stood near the charred skeleton of a car. "It's our right to choose our government ourselves. We have been living 29 years, my whole life, without being able to choose a president."

On Wednesday evening, people in Suez had tried to burn down a government building, another police post and a local office of Egypt's ruling party before police stopped them. The government has said it intervened there against what it called vandalism.

One policeman has been killed in Cairo in the protests, unprecedented during Mubarak's rule.

"Time for Mubarak to go"

Speaking earlier to Reuters in Vienna, ElBaradei said that it was time for Mubarak to step aside. "He has served the country for 30 years and it is about time for him to retire," said ElBaradei.

His arrival could spur protesters who have no figurehead, although many activists resent his absences abroad in recent months.

Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif urged citizens to exercise "self contro"l on Friday, the cabinet spokesman told reporters.

"Friday protest"

A Facebook page announcing Friday's protest gained 55,000 supporters in less than 24 hours and the call was then repeated by some opposition groups.

"Egypt's Muslims and Christians will go out to fight against corruption, unemployment and oppression and absence of freedom," wrote an activist on Facebook, which alongside sites such as Twitter have been key tools to rally people onto the streets.

ElBaradei launched a campaign for change last year, raising hopes his international stature could galvanise the opposition. But many activists have since complained that he should have spent more time on the street than abroad.

Web activists seem to have acted largely independently of more organised opposition movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, widely seen as having Egypt's biggest grassroots network with its social and charity projects.

A presidential election is due in September. Egyptians assume that the 82-year-old Mubarak plans either to remain in control or hand power to his son Gamal, 47. Father and son both deny that Gamal is being groomed for the job.

Egyptian officials separately denied on Thursday a report that Gamal had fled Egypt.

Egypt is home to about 80 million, two thirds of them under 30 and accounting for 90 percent of the jobless. About 40 percent live on less than $2 a day, and a third are illiterate.


Agencies

Last Mod: 28 Ocak 2011, 10:42
Add Comment