Violence flares as protesters urge Mubarak to step down
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Cairo police clash with protesters as thousands rally against the government of President Hosni Mubarak amid reports that the Internet has been shut down in the country.
AFP - Riot police in Egypt fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse tens of thousands of protesters who flooded out of Friday prayers demanding an end to decades of corruption and oppression and the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
But in a hint that authorities might heed public anger, a senior lawmaker and member of the ruling party called for "unprecedented reforms" in order to stave off a revolution.
Police were deployed in strength around the most populous Arab nation that has been rocked by protests since Tuesday, with seven people killed, hundreds injured and some 1,000 arrested.
They fired warning shots and used water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets in a bid to quash the rising tide of popular anger.
As the violence raged, Mustafa al-Fekki, National Democratic Party (NDP) member and chairman of parliament's foreign affairs committee, said security forces alone could not prevent revolution in Egypt, that reform was necessary.
"Nowhere in the world can the security forces put an end to revolution," he said in remarks to Al-Jazeera television.
"The security option alone is not sufficient, and the president is the only one to put an end to these events," he added, calling for "unprecedented reform."
Demonstrations spread around the capital of Cairo, where police appeared overwhelmed as protesters broke through several police barriers.
Leading dissident Mohamed ElBaradei was among a crowd of around 2,000 targeted by police in a central square after Friday prayers.
ElBaradei, who said he would be prepared to lead a transitional authority if he were asked, was forced to take refuge inside the mosque in Giza Square.
Protesters in Cairo were seen being dragged away and pushed into police vans, as others defied a heavy police presence and made their way to the central Tahrir Square, where tens of thousands had gathered on Tuesday.
In second city Alexandria, protesters threw stones at police after prayers ended with cries of "God is greatest" followed by "We don't want him," referring to Mubarak.
Police responded with tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets
The crowd attacked police vans, torching one, after a civilian had most of his hand blown away, allegedly by police.
In the Delta city of Mansura, hundreds chanted "Down with Mubarak" as they emerged from prayers, heavily outnumbered by security forces.
Some imams had encouraged worshippers to "go out and seek change," an AFP correspondent reported.
In another Delta city, Damietta, tens of thousands protested and set fire to the NDP headquarters there, witnesses said.
Authorities cut most mobile phone and Internet services in a bid to thwart the protests, but a founder of the April 6 movement spearheading demonstrations said it was too late to staunch the anger.
Test messaging was cut late Thursday while Internet services, which had been patchy during the night, were completely severed early Friday. That cut off access to networking sites Facebook and Twitter -- key communications' tools used by organisers of the protests.
Activists had circulated SMS messages and posted appeals on Facebook for fresh demonstrations "to demand the right to live with freedom and dignity."
"We've already announced the meeting places," Israa Abd el-Fatah told AFP after connections were cut. "So we've done it; we no longer need means of communication."
Egypt's largest opposition group, the banned Muslim Brotherhood, has also joined the biggest uprising in decades.
At least 20 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested overnight, including five former members of parliament, the group's lawyer, Abdelmoneim Abdel Maqsoud, told AFP.
The nationwide demonstrations, inspired by the "Jasmine Revolution" in Tunisia, have swelled into the largest uprising in three decades, sending shockwaves across the region.
While the confirmed death toll is five demonstrators and two policemen, Human Rights Watch said eight demonstrators and a policeman had been killed in protests in Cairo, Suez, Alexandria and other cities.
US President Barack Obama, in his first on-camera reaction to the demonstrations, said "violence is not the answer in solving these problems in Egypt" and that it was "absolutely critical" for Mubarak to move towards political reform.
Egypt is one of the United States' closest allies in the region, but analysts say Washington is growing increasingly concerned that its refusal to implement more political reforms could lead to further unrest and instability.
Among protesters' demands are the departure of the interior minister, whose security forces have been accused of heavy-handedness, and an end to a decades-old state of emergency and a rise in minimum wages.
Political discontent has been rumbling more loudly in Egypt since parliamentary elections in November, which were widely seen as rigged to allow candidates from the NDP to record a landslide victory.
In other developments, Fitch ratings agency said on Friday it had revised its ratings outlook for Egypt to negative as the surge in protests increases political and economic uncertainty.
The Cairo bourse was closed for the weekend, after having plunged 10 percent this week.
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