Tensions in Cairo as protesters defy curfew

 

As many as 10,000 protesters defied a curfew to gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square today in what has become a rallying point to express anger at poverty, repression, unemployment and corruption.

President Hosni Mubarak faced further unprecedented demands for an end to his 30-year rule today as he met with the military, which is widely seen as holding the key to Egypt's future.

Egyptians faced lawlessness on their streets today with security forces and ordinary people trying to stop looters after five days of popular protest.

Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei joined the protests in Tahrir Square. "The people want the regime to fall," protesters chanted as Mr ElBaradei walked to the centre of the square, holding hands with some demonstrators. "Mubarak has to leave today," Mr ElBaradei told CNN before joining the demonstrators.

Egyptian air force fighter planes buzzed low over Cairo, helicopters hovered above, and extra troop trucks appeared in the central square where demonstrators gathered again.

Earlier, the nobel peace laureate and retired international diplomat said he had been given a mandate to reach out to the army and build a new government:

Mr ElBaradei claimed a popular and political mandate to negotiate the creation of a national unity government.

"I have been authorised - mandated - by the people who organised these demonstrations and many other parties to agree on a national unity government," he told CNN.

"I hope that I should be in touch soon with the army and we need to work together. The army is part of Egypt."

In a clear expression of concern, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said the United States wanted to see "orderly transition" through free and fair elections in its key ally and the Arab world's most populous nation.

Throughout last night, Cairo residents armed with clubs, chains and knives formed vigilante groups to guard neighbourhoods from marauders after the unpopular police force withdrew following clashes with protesters that left more than 100 dead.

The capital's streets were mostly deserted, with the army guarding the Interior Ministry, and citizens putting their trust in the military, hoping they would restore order but not open fire to keep key US ally Mr Mubarak (82) in power.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist opposition group, has stayed in the background, although several of its senior officials have been rounded up. The government has accused it of planning to exploit the protests.

Thirty-four members of the Brotherhood, including seven of its leaders, walked out of prison today after relatives of prisoners overcame the guards, a Brotherhood official said.

Egypt said it had shut down the operations of satellite broadcaster Al Jazeera which has shown footage of the demonstrations taking place in Cairo, Suez and Alexandria and heavy-handed police tactics to the rest of the Arab world.

The government has interfered with Internet access and mobile phone signals to try and disrupt demonstrators' plans. Twitter messages on Sunday were urging Egyptians to assemble at Tahrir Square to resume their anti-Mubarak message.

In surreal scenes, soldiers from Mr Mubarak's army stood by tanks covered in anti-Mubarak graffiti: "Down with Mubarak. Down with the despot. Down with the traitor. Pharaoh out of Egypt."

Asked how they could let protesters write anti-Mubarak slogans on their vehicles, one soldier said: "These are written by the people, it's the views of the people."

Reuters