Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Egyptian Riot Police Attack Mass Demonstration in Cairo

Egypt protesters and police clash

Police fire tear gas and water cannons at anti-government demonstrators in Cairo

Last Modified: 25 Jan 2011 13:37 GMT

Protests in Egypt are often quashed swiftly by the police, who prevent marching

Egyptian police fired tear gas and used water cannons on protesters gathered in Cairo, calling for reforms and demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, Al Jazeera's correspondents reported.

This comes after thousands of anti-government protesters, some hurling rocks and climbing atop an armored police truck, gathered in downtown Cairo on Tuesday in a Tunisia-inspired demonstration.

Downtown Cairo came to a standstill with protesters chanting slogans against the police, the interior minister and the government, in scenes that the capital has not seen since the 1970s.

Demonstrators marched towards what Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh called the "symbols of their complaints and their agony," the headquarters of the ruling National Democracy Party, the foreign ministry and the state television.

But police responded with blasts from a water cannon and set upon crowds with batons and acrid clouds of tear gas to clear demonstrators crying out "Down with Mubarak'' and demanding an end to the country's grinding poverty.

Earlier on Tuesday, Rageh reported from the protests, calling them "unprecedented" in the leniency showed by security forces who allowed demonstrators to march through the capital.

The Egyptian government had earlier warned activists hoping to emulate Tunisian pro-democracy protesters that they faced arrest if they went ahead with Tuesday's mass demonstrations, which some labelled the "Day of wrath".

Promoted Online

The rallies have been promoted online by groups saying they speak for young Egyptians frustrated by the kind of poverty and oppression which triggered the overthrow of Tunisia's president.

Mamdouh Khayrat, 23, travelled from the governorate of Qalubiya to attend protests in Cairo. He spoke to Al Jazeera's Adam Makary. "We want a functioning government, we want Mubarak to step down, we don't want emergency law, we don't want to live under this kind of oppression anymore," he said.

"Enough is enough, things have to change, and if Tunisia can do it, why can't we?" Khayrat added.

Mohamed Ahmed, 36, a demonstrator from Boulaq told Al Jazeera's Makary "we might be trying to copy what happened in Tunisia. If Egyptians manage to even come close to what they did then I can proudly say today was successful but we still have a long way to do."

"The reaction [to join the protest] has been overwhelming," Rageh said. "The people we have seen taken to the streets today are not the 50 or 60 activists that we have been seeing protesting in Egypt for the past five or six years. These were normal Egyptians, older women, younger men, eevn children."

A day of revolution

Black-clad riot police, backed by armoured vehicles and fire engines, have been deployed in a massive security operation in Cairo, with the biggest concentrations at likely flashpoints, including: the Cairo University campus, the central Tahrir Square and the courthouse where protesters are said to be gathering.

Coinciding with a national holiday in honour of the police, a key force in keeping president Hosni Mubarak in power for 30 years, the outcome in Egypt on Tuesday is seen as a test of whether vibrant Web activism can translate into street action.

Organisers have called for a "day of revolution against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment".

"Activists said they wanted to use this particular day to highlight the irony of celebrating Egypt's police at a time when police brutality is making headlines," reported Rawya Rageh, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Cairo.

"In fact, the call originated from a Facebook page initially set up to honour a 28-year-old man from Alexandria who activists say was tortured to death by police.

"Witnesses are telling us that there are hundreds on the streets. This is an indication that the protests seem so far to be larger than the usual protests that have taken place here in Egypt over the past few years."

Mamdouh Khayrat, 23, travelled from the governorate of Qalubiya to attend protests in Cairo. He told Al Jazeera's Makary, "We want a functioning government, we want Mubarak to step down, we don't want emergency law, we don't want to live under this kind of oppression anymore. Enough is enough, things have to change. and if Tunisia can do it, why can't we?"

Banned demonstrations

"The security apparatus will deal firmly and decisively with any attempt to break the law," the government's director for security in the capital Cairo said in a statement released ahead of the protests.

Since Egypt bans demonstrations without prior permission, and as opposition groups say they have been denied such permits, any protesters may be detained.

Habib el-Adli, the interior minister, has issued orders to "arrest any persons expressing their views illegally".

"I tell the public that this Facebook call comes from the youth," Adli said in an interview published by the state-owned newspaper al Ahram.

"Youth street action has no impact and security is capable of deterring any acts outside the law," he said, adding that he welcomed "stationary protests held for limited periods of time" and that police would protect the protesters.

"Beginning of the end"

"Our protest on the 25th is the beginning of the end," wrote organisers of a Facebook group with 87,000 followers.

"It is the end of silence, acquiescence and submission to what is happening in our country. It will be the start of a new page in Egypt's history, one of activism and demanding our rights."

Rights watchdog Amnesty International has urged Egypt's authorities "to allow peaceful protests".

Protests in Egypt, the biggest Arab state and a keystone Western ally in the Middle East, tend to be poorly attended and are often quashed swiftly by the police, who prevent marching.

The banned Muslim Brotherhood, seen as having Egypt's biggest grassroots opposition network, has not called on members to take part but said some would join in a personal capacity.

Organisers have called for protesters to not display political or religious affiliations at demonstrations. The Facebook page says: "Today is for all Egyptians."

Commenting on the wave of public unrest in Tunisia, Adli, the interior minister, said talk that the "Tunisian model" could work in other Arab countries was "propaganda" and had been dismissed by politicians as "intellectual immaturity".

"Young people are very excited, and this time there will be much more than any other time," Ahmed Maher, one of the founders of the opposition youth movement said.

"This is going to be a real test of whether online activism in Egypt can translate into real action," Al Jazeera's Rageh reported.

"Anger has been on the rise in Egypt for the past couple of years, but we have seen similar calls fizzle out. The main difference now is that these calls are coming after what happened in Tunisia, which seems to have not only inspired activists, but actually ordinary Egyptians, a dozen of whom we have seen set themselves on fire in copycat self-immolations similar to the one that had sparked the uprising in Tunisia."

Sympathisers across the world have said they plan to protest in solidarity. In Kuwait, security forces detained three Egyptians on Monday for distributing flyers for the protests, while large demonstrations have also been planned outside the Egyptian embassies in Washington, DC, and London.

Source: Al Jazeera and Agencies

Hundreds march in Egyptian capital calling for president's ouster in Tunisian-inspired protest

By MAGGIE MICHAEL , Associated Press
Last update: January 25, 2011 - 5:47 AM

CAIRO - Hundreds of anti-government protesters are marching in the Egyptian capital chanting against President Hosni Mubarak and calling for an end to poverty.

The demonstrators are singing the national anthem, carrying banners denouncing Mubarak and saying Egyptian elections are fraudulent.

The protesters are heavily outnumbered by back-clad riot police, as security forces deployed in a massive operation across Cairo ahead of the first Tunisia-inspired rally in Egypt. No violence was immediately reported.

At the steps of the Lawyers' Syndicate, dozens are waving the national flag and calling for the end of Mubarak's rule.

Police say 15 members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, which has backed Tuesday's rally, were arrested in another Cairo neighborhood.

CAIRO (AP) — Thousands of Egyptian forces deployed Tuesday in a massive security operation across Cairo ahead of the first Tunisian-inspired protests here, while the country's top security official warned the government would not tolerate any street disturbances.

Black-clad riot police, backed by armored vehicles and fire engines, fanned out across the Egyptian capital, with the biggest concentration at likely flashpoints, including the main Cairo University campus, the central Tahrir Square and the city's largest courthouse in the downtown.

The protest organizers and opposition supporters — inspired by the popular revolt in Tunisia — have dubbed the planned rallies, which are expected to start in the early afternoon mainly in Cairo and Alexandria, as "the day of revolution against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment."

The rally call spread on Facebook and Twitter, with 90,000 saying they will attend.

Amnesty International expressed worries over protesters' safety, urging authorities to "refrain from excessive and disproportionate force."

Interior Minister Habib el-Adly said "decisive measures" will be imposed in the face of chaos on what is otherwise known as "Police Day" — a holiday honoring the much-feared force. Government offices, businesses and schools were closed for the day.

By noon, it was too early to predict how the protests would go.

The rallies were planned against a backdrop of growing anger in Egypt over wide poverty and deteriorating economy, as well as questions about President Hosni Mubarak's possible successor in presidential elections later this year.

The first ramifications of the Tunisia uprising surfaced last week in Egypt when several people set themselves on fire or attempted to do so outside parliament and the prime minister's office. Their actions sought to copy a young Tunisian vegetable vendor whose self-immolation helped spark the protests that forced Tunisia's authoritarian president to flee the country.

Nearly half of Egypt's 80 million people live under or just above the poverty line set by the United Nations at $2 a day. Poor quality education, health care and high unemployment have left large numbers of Egyptians deprived of basic needs.

The government has played down self-immolation attempts, with Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif telling reporters on Monday that those who committed the act were driven by "personal issues."

On Monday alone, police reported at least two self-immolation attempts in two provinces. In Cairo, a man in his 60s slashed his wrists in the middle of a small demonstration. None of the three died.

Soon after the Jan. 14 ouster of Tunisia's longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, all eyes focused on Egypt, with observers wondering if the dramatic events in the North African nation could spur unrest against another entrenched Arab regime.

The call for protests was first initiated by "The Martyr" Facebook page, set up in the name of a young Egyptian man, Khaled Said, whose family and witnesses say was beaten to death by a pair of policemen in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria last year. His case has become a rallying point for the opposition. Two policemen are currently on trial in connection with his death.

Legal parties such as the liberal Wafd and Al-Ghad in addition to supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood — Egypt's best organized opposition group — workers, students, government employees and activists said they will join the rally.

Organizers listed instructions on the Facebook page, including: bring an Egyptian flag, leave any other banners that represent your religious or political affiliation at home.

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