Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egypt Cracks Down on Mass ProtestS
Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- As darkness fell Friday, thousands of angry Egyptians defied a government curfew and stinging police tear gas to march on the streets demanding change. The United States appealed for restraint, but Friday evening the sounds of what seemed to be gunfire rang out near a Cairo police station on which protesters had converged. The government cracked down throughout the day with thousands of riot and plain-clothes police and the force of the army in armored personnel carriers equipped with gun turrets. Undeterred, people ran, screamed, hurled rocks and accosted walls of security as they tried to make their way to central Cairo. Embattled President Hosni Mubarak imposed a nationwide curfew from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. State-run Nile TV said the curfew was in response to the "hooliganism and lawlessness" of the protesters. Vans packed with riot police circled Cairo neighborhoods before the start of weekly prayers in the afternoon. Later in the day, Egyptian soldiers moved onto the streets, the first time the army has been deployed to quell unrest since 1985. But protesters, fed up with economic woes and a lack of freedoms, defied all warnings to demand an end to Mubarak's authoritarian 30-year-rule. They chanted "God is Great" and the dictator must go. "Down, Down, Mubarak," they shouted. Plumes of rancid, thick smoke billowed over the Nile River as, by day's close, chaos reigned in the bustling metropolis. Fires could be seen in front of the Egyptian ruling party's headquarters. Police fired tear gas with force and impunity. A tourist on the balcony of his 18th floor hotel room told CNN he had to run in and wash his eyes and face from the stinging gas. Police confiscated cameras from people, including guests at the Hilton Hotel. As the government cracked down on protesters across Egypt, opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, who returned home to Cairo to join the demonstrations, was placed under house arrest, a high-level security source told CNN. ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency, was warned earlier not to leave a mosque near downtown Cairo where he was attending Friday prayers. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the Egyptian crisis Friday, urging all parties to be peaceful and engage in dialog. "We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protesters and we call on the Egyptian government to do everything within its power to restrain its security forces," Clinton said. "At the same time, protesters should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully." She said the protests underscored "deep grievances within Egyptian society and the Egyptian government needs to understand that violence will not make these grievances go away." Unprecedented demonstrations erupted all over Egypt, the most populous nation in the Arab world and often a barometer for sentiment on the Arab community. In the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, at least 1,000 protesters gathered and youths hurled rocks through black clouds of gas. Crowds ran through the streets toward the city's central square. There was no indication of a curfew in that city either, as people remained out well after the time it was to begin. Further south in Suez, 15,000 riot police were out, using tear gas to disperse crowds, Nile TV said. Riot police also confronted protesters in the cities and towns of Ismailia, Fayoum and Shbin Elkoum, according to the anti-government group Egyptian Liberation. In Jordan, meanwhile, about 1,500 protesters amassed in downtown Amman and hundreds of others turned out in other cities, witnesses said. Egypt's Interior Ministry forbade protests Friday, but some Egyptians went door to door in Cairo, urging their neighbors to participate. The main opposition bloc, the Muslim Brotherhood, urged its supporters for the first time to take to the streets. A Facebook page devoted to the demonstrations accrued more than 80,000 followers as of Thursday afternoon, compared with 20,000 the previous day. But hours ahead of the protests, the internet went dark in parts of the country. Some text messaging and cell phone services appeared to be blocked. Servers of Egypt's main internet provider were down early Friday, according to multiple services that check whether servers used by specific sites are active. Servers for the Egyptian government's sites and for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo also appeared to be down. "We are closely monitoring the situation and are aware that communication services, including social media, are being blocked," U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday. "We continue to urge Egyptian authorities to show restraint and allow peaceful protests to occur." Even though it was difficult to use Twitter and Facebook within Egypt, thousands of others outside the country ran with the powerful social media tool to provide a real-time chronology of events. "Mubarak" was a trending topic. Authorities arrested a prominent Muslim Brotherhood leader early Friday, detaining the party's main speaker, Issam al-Aryan, according to a relative. Police came to al-Aryan's Cairo home at 2:30 a.m. local time, his son-in-law said. Other government critics voiced their opinions -- amazingly -- on state-run television. A popular morning show on state-run Nile TV included comments from guests calling for the resignation of government officials and increased dialogue between authorities and arrested protesters. The network carried coverage of the protests, even at times calling them large and peaceful. They followed days of unrest that have roiled several Arab countries. Demonstrations in Tunisia led the president to flee that North African nation. Then came protests in Algeria, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan. Essentially they are pro-democracy protests by people who are increasingly frustrated with the accumulating wealth of the elites in their respective countries, while a majority of the citizenry faces bleak economic prospects. "They all want the same," said Emile Hokayem of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in the Middle East. "They're all protesting about growing inequalities, they're all protesting against growing nepotism. The top of the pyramid was getting richer and richer." People are also fed up with authoritarian regimes that do not afford the people proper representation. "Fundamentally it's a question of dignity. People's dignity has been under assault for decades," Hokayem said. Opposition leader ElBaradei said Thursday that people have taken to the streets because they "realize the regime is not listening, not acting." "The barrier of fear is broken," he said. "And it will not come back." He called for demonstrations to be peaceful and for Mubarak's government to stop detaining and torturing people. He said that a violent response from the government is "counterproductive" and that the regime should promote democracy and social justice. "I am asking the regime to listen to the people before it is too late," the opposition leader said. Mubarak has not been seen in public for some time. He is 82 and there has been speculation of failing health. Many Egyptians believe Mubarak is grooming his son, Gamal, as his successor, a plan that could be complicated by demands for democracy. At least six people have died in the demonstrations so far, according to Egypt's Interior Ministry. Four French journalists were arrested in Cairo but were later released, according to the French newspaper Le Figaro. And a CNN crew covering the clashes in Cairo felt the wrath of the police. CNN's Ben Wedeman and Mary Rogers were under an overpass and behind a column as police tried to hold back protesters. Plainclothes police wielding clubs surrounded the CNN team and wanted "to haul us off," Wedeman said. In a struggle, police grabbed Rogers's camera, cracked its viewfinder, and confiscated it. Wedeman said the police threatened to beat them.

No comments:

Post a Comment