Unrest swells in Egypt as cornered government bans Al-Jazeera (Roundup)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

CAIRO - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s long reign seemed to teeter as unrest raged across the country despite the military moving on the streets to control tens of thousands of protestors. Over 10 people were killed in fresh clashes with police here Sunday as authorities banned Arabic TV channel Al-Jazeera that has been prompt in reporting the anti-government protests.

The Egyptian military moved into the Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh Sunday in an effort to control unrest in the tourist areas, while Cairo airport was flooded with foreigners trying to leave the country.

The US embassy in Cairo has advised American citizens to leave the country as soon as possible owing to the unrest, according to broadcaster al-Arabiya.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey and India said they were sending planes to evacuate their citizens from Egypt.

The protestors in Egypt are calling for democracy, ouster of Mubarak, and more employment opportunities. The anti-government protests started in Egypt Jan 25, with crowds of tens of thousands demanding Mubarak step down after three decades in power.

Over 10 protestors were killed in clashes with police near the interior ministry building in Cairo in the early hours of Sunday, Al-Jazeera reported.

Mubarak is reported to be dividing his time between a residence in Cairo and one in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Pro-democracy leader Mohamed El Baradei has stuck to the demand of Mubarak’s resignation and said the appointment of a new vice president and a prime minister was not enough.

Mubarak Saturday swore in intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as vice president and appointed former air force commander and aviation minister Ahmed Shafik as the new prime minister in an effort to quell the mass unrest against his rule.

About 5,000 Egyptian prisoners broke out of a prison in the Fayyoum govenorate amid the nationwide riots Saturday night, Dubai-based Arabiya TV reported Sunday.

Earlier Saturday night, a building of Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party in downtown Cairo was set on fire for the second time, eyewitnesses said.

Protestors marched towards the Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo carrying the dead Saturday night after the curfew was clamped at 4 p.m.

US President Barack Obama reiterated his appeal to protestors on Egyptian streets to restrain from violence in the mass protests to demand resignation of Hosni Mubarak.

The president made the remarks at a meeting of his national security team at the White House, which lasted over an hour.

On Friday evening, in a televised speech, Obama called for both sides in Egypt to refrain from violence and demanded the US ally to pursue political, economic and social reforms.

As a close US ally, Egypt is the second largest recipient of US aid in the region after Israel, which stood at some $1.5 billion in the 2010 fiscal.

The toll of protestors in the nationwide demonstrations in Egypt climbed up to 51 Saturday.

In a swift move, the government, keen to contain the spreading unrest, banned the Al-Jazeera channel. According to the announcement, the accreditations of Al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt have been cancelled and the TV channel’s access to satellite communication has been closed.

Al-Jazeera was a major news source for Egyptians, as it had the largest ramified network of correspondents across Egypt.

Al-Jazeera TV channel telecast live reports from Cairo and other Egyptian cities swept by anti-government protests, interviewed opposition leaders and protestors and provided exclusive information on riots, lootings and victims in Egypt.

In the Faiyum governorate, an administrative division, located 81 miles (about 130 km) to the southwest of Cairo, unidentified gunmen shot dead the chief of a local prison, freeing several hundred prisoners, Al-Jazeera said.

The government has imposed a ban on protests and warned the demonstrators of stern action.

More than 1,000 people have been arrested this week, with many more are reportedly missing.

In Cairo, police have used rubber bullets and tear gas in clashes with protestors at the interior ministry. There have also been clashes in the cities of Alexandria and Ismailiya.

The military, called out Friday to reinforce police, continued patrolling the streets with tanks and armoured vehicles as demonstrators defied the overnight curfew, ordered by Mubarak for Cairo, Suez and Alexandria but later extended nationwide.

Internet and mobile communications were cut Friday across Egypt, after social-networking websites used to organise protests were blocked earlier in the week.

Support for the protestors swelled among neighbouring countries, as in Amman, a number of Jordanian activists staged protests in front of the Egyptian embassy and dozens of people took to the streets in Yemen in support.

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