Internet disrupted amid Egypt riots
Internet service in Egypt was disrupted and the government deployed an elite special operations force in Cairo, hours before an anticipated new wave of anti-government protests.
The developments were a sign that President Hosni Mubarak's regime was toughening its crackdown following the biggest protests in years against his nearly 30-year rule.
The counter-terror force, rarely seen on the streets, took up positions in strategic locations, including central Tahrir Square, site of the biggest demonstrations this week.
Facebook and Twitter have helped drive this week's protests. But by Thursday evening, those sites were disrupted, along with mobile phone text messaging and BlackBerry Messenger services. Then the internet went down.
Earlier, the grass-roots movement got a double boost - the return of Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and the backing of the biggest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood.
The real test will be whether Egypt's fragmented opposition can come together, with Friday's rallies expected to be some of the biggest so far.
Social networking sites were abuzz that the gatherings called after Friday prayers could attract huge numbers of protesters demanding the removal of Mubarak. Millions gather at mosques across the city on Fridays, giving organisers a vast pool of people to tap into.
Mr Mubarak, 82, has not been seen in public or heard from since the protests began on Tuesday with tens of thousands marching in Cairo and a string of other cities. While he may still have a chance to ride out this latest challenge, his choices are limited, and all are likely to lead to a loosening of his grip on power.
Violence escalated on Thursday at protests outside the capital. In the flashpoint city of Suez, along the strategic Suez Canal, protesters torched a fire station and looted weapons that they then turned on police. The Interior Ministry said in a statement that more than 90 police officers were injured in those clashes. There were no immediate figures on the number of injured protesters.
ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog and a leading Mubarak opponent, has sought to recreate himself as a pro-democracy campaigner in his homeland. He is viewed by some supporters as a figure capable of uniting the country's fractious opposition and providing the movement with a road map for the future.