Egypt: protesters renew call for Mubarak to resign

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AHMAD SHOKR: After a day of unprecedented mass rallies that brought hundreds of thousands to the streets across Egypt the protestors on Saturday morning are renewing their calls for President Hosni Mubarak to step down. The government imposed a curfew just after sunset which was largely ignored of course Cairo is a big city of almost 20 million people so it is virtually impossible to enforce the curfew in the state of upheaval that the city was in last night. Battles with riot police continued late into the night. But it now seems that the police have retreated atleast in Cairo and there are still reports of violence and clashes with security in Ismailia further east. But in Cairo they seem to have retreated after being defeated by the protestors yesterday.

The death toll from yesterdays protests have reached atleast 60 people, and over 1000 injuries have been reported. Military tanks and armoured vehicles have been deployed onto the streets mostly around key government sites and the national museum and they remain there as we speak. For the most part the military has been friendly with the protestors, the soldiers are saying that they are there to protect the people, though there are some reports of protestors having torched military vehicles across the city.

There have been scenes of violence and looting last night, the vast majority of it directed at political symbols, such as the ruling party headquarters which had been set ablaze, and numerous armoured security vehicles that were turned over and burned and used as road blocks by the protestors.

Most of the protestors have been very keen on protecting public property. Wandering through the streets last night I saw several incidents where an individual that was attempting to damage public property, like buildings and statues and that sort of thing was stopped by a crowd of people and warned against such actions the crowds insisted that public property belongs to the people and not the regime, it should not be the focus of the protestors attention.

Today there are popular committees on the streets that are guiding traffic, cleaning the wreckage of security vehicles that were set ablaze and generally helping to maintain order, and the military seems to be helping them to do so.

Last night President Hosni Mubarak finally gave a much anticipated speech where he announced that he would dissolve cabinet and pledged political and social reform and also congratulated his previous reforms for giving people the right to protest over the past few days, with the words which infuriated many of those who were on the streets yesterday and the previous days. Mubarak’s speech was followed by things from US president Barack Obama who again emphasized the urgent need for reform in Egypt and urged restraint on the part of Egyptian security in dealing with protestors.

The reaction to these speeches on the ground specifically that of the Egyptian president, there has been widespread disappointment and anger, most people on the streets insist their demands are for the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak and nothing less. In that respect many people feel that both Mubarak and Obama’s speeches have really missed the point, people are not out in the streets, fighting off a violent security force for three days simply for cabinet reshuffle or changing the existing government policy. For them it’s really about, it’s not about reforming the existing government, it’s about changing it and that means above all Hosni Mubarak Leaving power.

It is now noon on Saturday and the new cabinet is expected to be announced very soon, and many people have already started to converge in Tarir Square the city’s main square which I’m looking at right now and many more are expected to fill the square over the course of the day to continue pressing forward with their demands for Mubarak to step down. So there is a relatively uneasy calm prevails over Cairo right now, the situation is still quite tense and could easily change throughout the course of the day.

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