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Egyptian protesters defy curfew

Thousands of anti-government protesters have defied the Egyptian government's curfew and filled the streets and squares of downtown Cairo in a resounding rejection of the long-time president Hosni Mubarak's attempt to hang on to power with promises of reform and a new government.

Tanks and armoured personnel carriers fanned out across the city of 18 million, guarding key government buildings, but the curfew was largely ignored by looters who ran rampant, by protesters, and apparently by soldiers under orders to enforce it.

Police opened fired on the demonstrators around the area of Tahrir Square after thousands tried to storm the Interior Ministry. At least three were killed and their bodies were carried through the crowd of protesters.

The death toll since the largest anti-government protests in decades began on Tuesday rose to 62, according to medical and security officials and witnesses at the demonstration. Of those, 41 have been killed since Friday. Some 2,000 injuries have been reported.

In the city's main Tahrir Square, at the centre of Saturday's massive demonstration, there was only a light military presence - a few tanks - and soldiers were not intervening.

Few police were seen in the crowds and the protest began peacefully. Then police opened fire on some in the crowd near the Interior Ministry and a number of them were wounded by gunshots. It was not clear whether they used rubber bullets or live ammunition.

One army captain joined the demonstrators, who hoisted him on their shoulders while chanting slogans against President Mubarak. The officer ripped a picture of the president. There have been no clashes reported between the military and the protesters, and many seem to feel the army is with them. On one tank was scrawled black graffiti: "Down with Mubarak."

The demonstrators were not satisfied with Mr Mubarak's actions to address the discontent. The president fired his Cabinet late on Friday night and promised reforms but in a nationally televised speech he refused to meet the protesters' ultimate demand - for him to step down.

However, Mr Mubarak did later name a vice president - his intelligence chief and close confidant Omar Suleiman - for the first time since coming to power nearly 30 years ago, in what is seen as a clear step towards setting up a successor amid the biggest challenge ever to his rule.

Hundreds of people packed into Cairo's main airport hoping for a flight out of Egypt but Western carriers were cancelling, delaying or suspending services after the violent unrest. Between 1,500 and 2,000 people flocked to Cairo Intentional Airport, many without reservations. Officials said about half were tourists and half Egyptians.


From Belfast Telegraph